I grew up in Texas, so Juneteenth was always a major holiday for me and my family. After all, Juneteenth commemorates the day – June 19, 1865 – when Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, and announced that the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 had freed all the enslaved people in the United States.
For me, Juneteenth means a joyful gathering. As a child, my family went to church together and enjoyed the music and food. I didn’t think much about the significance of the holiday — it was just a celebration we had each summer. When I moved to Virginia, I was surprised to learn not everyone celebrated Juneteenth as we did in Texas. But I didn’t give it a lot of thought until Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday two years ago.
That’s when I began to reflect on its importance as an American holiday. As the award-winning author, poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better.” I now recognize my relationship to the holiday is ever evolving and my appreciation for its significance has grown, as it has for so many in our country.
Juneteenth’s history of redemption
Today, when I think of Juneteenth, I still embrace the celebration — but I also think about its value as a story of redemption. I imagine the pain and suffering my forebearers experienced living through slavery; I also imagine the pure joy and elation they must have experienced knowing they had their freedom.
Living now in Virginia, that complicated past is all around me. Last year before Juneteenth, I was walking a trail and came upon the graves of five slaves. Coming face to face with our history like this stopped me in my tracks. I considered how these people didn’t enjoy the freedom I now have. Through each generation, that freedom advances a few steps —sometimes retracting a step or two. But progress continues, so long as it remains our focus.
When honoring my family’s history, I think of my grandfather who lived to be 103 years old. He was raised in the Jim Crow South but still managed to acquire 200 acres, becoming a truly accomplished and successful man with land and cattle. And that could be why, as the holiday passed down through the generations to me, we let go of the suffering and focused instead on the joy. My family had a lot to celebrate and be grateful for.
Juneteenth’s importance for the future
Today, I try to pay that attitude forward as the proud executive co-sponsor of Micron’s Black Employee Network (BEN) employee resource group. This active population of Micron team members inspires me each day. To help us build the diverse, highly skilled workforce of the future that can support the scale of our planned leading-edge memory manufacturing investments, our BEN members are volunteering in Black schools and in other historically marginalized communities, raising STEM awareness among the next generation of innovators. By highlighting the opportunities and rewards of good-paying jobs in the semiconductor industry, our BEN members are modeling the possibility of this life to kids who didn’t know it was even possible.
I’m also inspired when I see the faces of the students in the Micron-Norfolk State University Nanofabrication Cleanroom. Their imaginations, creativity and innovation ignite, thanks to the hands-on experiences they receive through our partnership. I am moved by Micron’s commitment to provide equitable access for so many students who have not had these opportunities before.
There is freedom in accessing not only rights and liberties but also opportunities for advanced careers. This is what helps our country grow and get better together. Today, I use the holiday to look at how we value people moving forward and how we can all make things better. I invite you to join me in celebrating Juneteenth as an American holiday. Yes, it is about family, food, music and fun — but it’s also about celebrating freedom and opportunities for all.