Earlier this week, Congress passed legislation, subsequently signed into law by President Biden and Vice President Harris, establishing June 19 as a U.S. federal holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. “Juneteenth,” observed in different parts of the country since the late 1800’s, is the first new federal holiday created by Congress since 1983, when lawmakers voted to establish Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Juneteenth carries deep cultural and historical significance yet remains unknown to many more than a century later. Its origins date back to June 19th, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, TX bringing news that the Civil War had ended and slavery had been abolished. Despite President Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years earlier, the news came as a shock to the more than 250,000 enslaved people across the state.
Over the years, Juneteenth has come to symbolize freedom, ancestry, and heritage, bringing Black families and communities together annually in observation of the day. More recently, a day that signifies freedom has taken on new meaning – a rallying cry for change as the nation continues to wrestle with issues of systemic racism, social injustice, and civil unrest. Now, more than ever, Juneteenth offers the opportunity to pause, reflect, and re-energize in the long-term movement for change.
That’s how we’re spending Juneteenth. For the second consecutive year, PTC is recognizing Juneteenth as a paid company holiday – joining a growing list of companies such as Nike, Adobe, Google, JPMorgan, Twitter, and Uber. It’s part of our ongoing commitment to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the communities where we live and work, and it’s our way of educating ourselves about the historical significance of Juneteenth while working toward a brighter future.
As executive sponsor of PTC’s Black Employee (BE) employee resource group, I have the privilege of seeing this work – championing change, fostering cultural awareness – come to life across the organization. I sat down recently with Kevin Foster, Vice President of IoT Marketing at PTC and BE advisor, to talk about Juneteenth and the ongoing work BE is doing. Let’s have a look:
For many Black people, Juneteenth has become a day for reflection. We take the time to remember where our ancestors came from and to re-energize ourselves to continue to drive anti-racist efforts, no matter how hard or tiring it may be. That annual reminder helps us realize that there is still work to do in the fight for social justice.
Black people and allies have been fighting for this freedom for centuries. Today, there is a renewed hope as more people from all backgrounds and walks of life are starting to stand up and fight for the freedom that Juneteenth communicated 156 years ago, the Emancipation Proclamation legislated 158 years ago, and the founding fathers committed to when signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776 stating “all men are created equal.”
And, let me be clear, these are basic freedoms that many don’t give a second thought. The freedom to thrive in this country. Freedom to bird watch, jog, go to the store for Skittles, attend a party, and even sleep in your home without fear of harm. Freedom to celebrate your wins and mourn your losses without persecution. Freedom to have a voice in the political process.
Juneteenth is about standing up and demanding freedom for all people in the United States and around the world.
The charter of BE is to create awareness around Black history and current events impacting the community, as well as provide ally guidance in pursuit of an equal and inclusive workplace at PTC. We have programs and events throughout the year, geared at Black employee recruitment and professional development; community engagement, mentorship, and volunteering opportunities; and internal collaboration, partnerships, and knowledge sharing.
A good example of the cultural awareness we’re fostering is the “Hidden Figures” series we launched during Black History Month, where we spotlighted Black Americans that have challenged conventions and thrived throughout history and time. Most have not heard of these hidden figures in history, yet they have each made a significant impact on the way we work and live today. For example, we highlighted Onesimus, the former slave who was instrumental in introducing the principle and procedure of inoculation to stave off a smallpox outbreak here in Boston back in the 1720s. As the world recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, his story and leadership needed to be shared to showcase his resiliency, ingenuity, and innovation.
We also used Black History Month to spotlight the work that many of our Black employees do here at PTC as well as the community. Our co-workers are driving meaningful, lasting change – educating and inspiring those around us for a better tomorrow.
One of the goals of BE is to educate PTC employees on how they can best support the Black community. This comes in many forms – listening sessions, small group dialogues, as well as things at the programmatic level – but the point is that we’re carving out space and time to have honest, sometimes uncomfortable, and vulnerable conversations with each other. But it is also incumbent on those outside of the Black community to use this knowledge to help in the fight for change across all levels of PTC and in the broader world.
Allyship doesn’t just mean supporting the Black community – it means supporting all communities. To that end, BE and other employee resource groups have begun co-developing webinars, workshops, and discussions that touch upon the intersectionality of race, gender, sexual identity, and more.
Earlier this week, BE and our PRISM employee resource group co-sponsored a webinar discussion led by cultural storyteller and educator Patrice Palmer. The webinar, “Courageous Conversations on LGBTQ+ Existence & Persistence through the Lens of Blackness,” explored the history and complexities that form when racial identity and sexual orientation collide.
When we combine the efforts of PTC’s employee resource groups with the full support and commitment of our executive and leadership teams, we move closer to our overarching goal of creating a truly equal and inclusive workplace culture. And I am glad to say that we are leading by example. It’s the embodiment of our PTC for All pledge – collectively taking action in meaningful, impactful ways.
This Juneteenth, PTC will pause to reflect on the cultural and historical significance of the day while reminding ourselves that real change takes time, persistence, and working together. We’re committed to putting in the work to be the change we want to see in the world around us.