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Retailers and Juneteenth: Make It Meaningful
Juneteenth is an annual holiday observing the end of slavery in the US and marks June 19, 1865 as the day when news of the emancipation reached people in the deepest parts of the former Confederacy in Galveston, TX.

The holiday is considered the longest running African American holiday and has been called America’s second Independence Day.

Today, the date has become a multicultural holiday and most often observed through local celebrations including cookouts, rodeos, street fairs and festivals. These celebrations can include readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, historical reenactments, lectures on Black culture and other educational exhibits.

In 2020, the holiday captured a wave of attention following global protests sparked by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks with a national conversation to rethink policing in America. The movement also led to a wider focus on the progress and contributions of Black people in America. With Juneteenth coinciding with the rise in protests, discourse included significant support and renewed calls to recognize the day as a national holiday. Pressure mounted on many major companies to take action to honor the day. Ultimately, a large contingent of brands contributed to the national conversation…some striking a poignant note, others missing the mark.

While retailers aren’t required or expected to take action on Juneteenth, Empower’s Retail Center of Excellence (RCOE) recommends that retailers do something to honor the day.

As we look to 2021, Empower’s social listening tools revealed that conversations are already trending at higher levels than a year ago – as January mentions were up 501% YoY and February were up 230%. Additionally, conversation sentiment this year has skewed more positively (+39% Net Sentiment*) compared to a year ago (+27% Net Sentiment in 2020). Among those posting about the holiday since the start of 2020 (based on Twitter data), audiences that over-indexed (110+ index) were Women (131 index), those with interest in Family (113 index) and Politics (134 index).

For retailers asking for advice around social messaging, Empower’s RCOE has a few key guidelines to celebrate for the right reasons:

Help your social community learn more about Black history and enable them to learn more about Black culture.

  • Educational and historic information and resources
  • Movie list to watch related to inequality
  • List of favorite educational books
  • Best museums or art galleries
  • Share impactful, credible content about racism, white supremacy and fragility

Highlights from 2020:

    • Ulta Beauty shared ways to celebrate the holiday like patronizing Black-owned businesses, donating to important causes, signing petitions and learning more about the BLM movement
    • Hulu shared a Juneteenth watchlist and encouraged their audience to engage in the conversation

Use your social channel to amplify Black voices

  • Arrange a social media takeover with a celebrity, activist or influencer
  • Encourage a conversation that lets your audience engage in a Juneteenth celebration online

Highlights from 2020:

    • Sephora hosted a live conversation to share perspectives with Black activists, scholars and partners including @blarimani, @tiffanydioftin and @jamiraburley
    • Old Navy kicked off a series that allowed real families to share stories about race and equality starting with @jennawilder, who shared a brief essay and photo shoot (featuring Old Navy clothing) about her multicultural family

Promote and link to other relevant resources

  • Provide additional content and resources that speak to the history of injustices and offer a better understanding of the Black experience in America

Highlights from 2020:

    • Amazon created a resource page with tools intended to spark conversation and exploration while emphasizing active participation
    • Gerber encouraged education around racial diversity and shared links to resources including Parenting Decolonized, Krissy’s Couch and Education with an Apron while encouraging their audience to share their favorite charities and resources in the comments

Close offices but outline opportunities for employees to volunteer or encourage participation in educational activities

  • Encourage employees to share their observances on social media and remind them that Juneteenth is a holiday to commemorate Black history and culture through celebration, education and reflection
  • It can feel like having a vacation day is negative, but it needs to be recognized as a huge win since it was never previously in consideration as a holiday

Highlights from 2020:

    • Target took Juneteenth away from social media to focus on volunteer work within the community and shared pictures of that work the day after the holiday
    • US Bank shared that they would be closing early, but reinforced that employees are encouraged to use the time to serve in the community, commit to inclusion/advocacy or educate themselves on the topic

Social media is important to beginning the conversation, but retailers are also encouraged to take action to end racism. For example, Walmart discontinued placing multiracial hair care and beauty products in locked cases, a practice that was in place in about a dozen of its 4,700 U.S. stores. Kohl’s made a donation for an unspecified amount to the NAACP to help overcome racial injustice in the U.S. and is supporting local organizations in its hometown of Milwaukee that address disparities head-on. Also in 2020, Sephora- committed to allocate 15% of its shelf space to Black-owned businesses.

While Empower recommends retailers do something for Juneteenth, there are also a few things to consider including the brand’s place in the BLM movement. Organizations are encouraged to closely review their responsibility to speak up along with their tone, messaging and overarching context. Additionally, retailers must anticipate any potential and consider alignment with their board/shareholders. Messages will be scrutinized by consumers, and retailers may be asked to verify how their support in the community and may be called to ‘put their money where their mouth is.’

While the US will be in a different place for Juneteenth 2021, with the pandemic fading and a rightful guilty verdict in the Chauvin trial, there is still more work to be done to end racism and celebrate diversity. Contributing to the discourse can be a small step in honoring Juneteenth and is a great way to encourage employees to get involved in their communities. With the future looking up, it’s important that companies continue to fight for systematic change and equality all year long.