On Thursday, President Biden signed a bill declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday, one day after the legislation was approved by the House following Senate approval on Tuesday. The oldest commemoration of the end of slavery in the U.S., Juneteenth honors June 19, 1865, when a proclamation in Galveston, Texas, declared that slaves were finally free--two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Few holidays have made their way onto the calendars of companies big and small with the same speed and purposefulness. Last year, brands ranging from Adobe to Nike to the NFL declared Juneteenth a paid holiday.
For many business owners, the question isn't whether to celebrate the historical event, but how. While time off is the most common way to honor the day, many businesses are going a step further.
"I don't take Juneteenth off. The way I see it, our ancestors died so that I can do what I'm doing. I want to work," says Fawn Weaver, founder and CEO of Inc. Best in Business honoree Uncle Nearest Whiskey. Weaver is also the first woman and the first African-American founder to establish a major spirits brand in the United States.
Based in Shelbyville, Tennessee, Uncle Nearest operates out of the rehabilitated distillery of "Uncle" Nearest Green, the enslaved man who originally taught Jack Daniel how to make whiskey. After just over a year of being closed to the public, the Nearest Green Distillery is expecting upwards of 10,000 people for its grand re-opening on June 19.
"I think that this re-opening is a celebration of what African Americans have never been able to do up until now," Weaver says. "When we talk about being our ancestors' wildest dreams, I don't think any of them would be able to see, in their minds' eye, what we're able to achieve today."
Weaver also recently launched a $50 million annual fund to support two rising BIPOC- and female-led spirits brands; the amount is roughly twice over the total adjusted dollar value lost during the Black Wall Street Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921.
Here are what eight other U.S. businesses are doing, beyond going OOO, to celebrate America's first federalized Juneteenth holiday this year.
Founded last year, the Black-owned activewear company Actively Black regularly donates a portion of its sales toward causes promoting physical and mental health in the Black community. On June 19, the company will also host a virtual run, during which participants can post photos with the hashtag #JuneteenthVirtualRun. Runners can register through the company's website, and all proceeds will be donated to the Liberation Fund, a Houston-based organization dedicated to the pro bono defense of victims of police misconduct.
"We're supposed to be celebrating the official end of slavery, yet to this day there are still people who are enslaved by some of these circumstances," says founder Lanny Smith. "So while we're celebrating, we're also still fighting."
Austin-based software company Agile Assets serves public works entities on five continents, and the company's 100-plus employees hail from 20 different countries and speak a dozen languages. Founder Stuart Hudson added three new holidays emphasizing diversity in 2021: Juneteenth, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and a personal holiday that gives employees the opportunity to celebrate according to their cultures.
The e-commerce giant this week announced the launch of the Black Business Accelerator, a program designed to support Black-owned third-party sellers on its site. The initiative includes a commitment of $150 million over the next four years to help thousands of Black entrepreneurs in the form of financial assistance, marketing and promotion, and business mentorship. Amazon developed it in conjunction with the Minority Business Development Agency, the National Minority Supplier Development Council, and U.S. Black Chambers Inc.
The internet music company is hosting its second annual Juneteenth fundraiser on Friday, June 18. Bandcamp will donate 100 percent of its share of sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The fundraiser "is part of our larger, ongoing commitment to racial equity, and we'll continue to promote diversity and opportunity through the products we develop, those we promote on Bandcamp Daily and Bandcamp Radio, how we work together as a team, who and how we hire, and our relationships with organizations local to our Oakland space," says Bandcamp co-founder and CEO Ethan Diamond. The company supports racial equity organizations including East Oakland Collective, East Oakland Youth Development Center, the Hidden Genius Project, Oakland Black Business Fund, and Oakland Kids First.
Last year, CEO Andrew Wilson declared Juneteenth a company-wide day of volunteering, including activities organized by the Black Electronic Arts Team employee resource group. Since then, the game developer and its employees have donated $2.6 million to organizations working to fight systemic racial injustice and discrimination, including the Equal Justice Initiative and the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund. In honor of the holiday this year, the company announced it would double match employee donations to nearly 30 organizations, for a total of up to $500,000.
The largest Black-owned bank--and only Black-owned digital bank--in the U.S. is hosting a free virtual financial conference on Juneteenth in an effort to help close America's massive racial wealth gap. The conference, called One Transaction, will encourage Black Americans to focus on one transaction in 2021 that will increase their net worth, such as home ownership, an investment portfolio, or an improved credit score. Speakers include FUBU founder and Shark Tank judge Daymond John, the Blackout Coalition founder Calvin Martyr, and Lendistry founder Everett Sands.
Founder Delane Parnell, who in 2018 raised one of the largest Series A rounds ever for a Black founder, made Juneteenth and election day company holidays at his Los Angeles-based e-sports company. Employees will have the day off this Friday and are encouraged to observe the holiday. Last year, Parnell and several employees participated in a Juneteenth car parade through the city. The company made lump donations to Black Lives Matter and the Southern Poverty Law Center. It also participates in an employee donation matching program, as well as a community program that funds computer labs for low- income schools. "We have ambitions of existing in a more just world and we take responsibility for doing what's necessary to make it that way," the company said in a statement.
Square and Twitter
Founder Jack Dorsey announced last year that Juneteenth will be a company holiday at both of his companies going forward. This year, Twitter is participating in an employee donation-matching program pledging up to $1 million, and it has allocated $500,000 in ad grants to nonprofits dedicated to fighting for racial justice. Square is also offering Black-owned businesses up to $3,000 in transactions with no processing fees.