In the wake of the tragic death of George Floyd, the American Lung Association has sought to bring more attention to national observances that honor diverse experiences. In the spirit of this, for the first time, the Lung Association is recognizing Juneteenth as an official holiday for our staff and closing our offices.

Juneteenth is a holiday to celebrate the journey and freedom of Black Americans, and the many contributions they have made to American culture. It originated on June 19, 1865, when Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to inform enslaved Black Americans of their freedom and the end of the Civil War. Major General Granger’s announcement put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued more than two and a half years earlier by President Abraham Lincoln. Today, Juneteenth is often celebrated among families at their homes and in their backyards, however some cities, like Atlanta and Washington, hold larger events, like parades and festivals.

As we reflect on this notable change implemented by the Lung Association and dozens of workplaces nationwide, here are some impactful stories from staff on what Juneteenth means to them:

Candace Alexander, Director, Health Promotions, Western; Member, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council

“What Juneteenth means to me."

"Juneteenth, for me has been a time for family and friends to celebrate—gathering in homes and at community events and partake of all the food, entertainment and edutainment enactments that were offered-think "a Black 4th of July.”

“This year, I am more inclined to continue the difficult conversations this past year has demanded of us. The notion of Freedom was brought front and center. Audacious atrocities continued until crowds erupted into the streets, demanding simple acts of humanitarianism."

“The delayed announcement that became known as Juneteenth is evidence that people who oppress others are in no rush to allow for freedom—life, liberty, nor the pursuit of happiness for those who don’t live, look, speak, or worship like them. This year, I will observe the significance of civic engagement, that empowers Black people to utilize their voice in the fight for Freedom.”

Felicia Fuller, Director, Lung Health; Member, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council

"As a young teen I remember going to Juneteenth Festivals in my predominately Black suburb of San Francisco and not quite understanding the celebration, having fun, but wondering why it took over 2 years for enslaved people to finally be told of their freedom and what that must have felt like. I also know that the Ku Klux Klan had the audacity to march down the same street as our Juneteenth Festival one year, yes, in California. How that must have traumatized the community as I look back on that time now. So, when I think of Juneteenth, I think of the wonderful times I had with family and friends, but I also think of the challenging journey that the Black community still walks today."

"After a year of witnessing firsthand major health inequities and the continual injustice that Black people disproportionately face at the hands of the police, I am pleased that I work for an organization that prioritizes health equity, social justice, and the significance of Juneteenth. Let us all take a minute next weekend and reflect on the possibilities that my sons and the children of all women of color deserve in a world that is still fighting for equity and justice."

Kristina Hamilton, Director, Advocacy, Illinois & Iowa; Chair, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council

“The ever-present significance of Juneteenth is not lost on me. As a Black woman with a graduate degree working at the American Lung Association, ‘I am my ancestors' wildest dreams.’ This popular declaration in the Black community is especially apparent to me when I think about my undergraduate education. I earned my bachelor’s degree at a university whose original campus was built by slaves, and no Black person was allowed to attend my university as an undergraduate student until 1955; even then, because of my gender, I would not have been allowed to attend until 1970. The fact that that these policies were in place 100 years after the abolition of slavery in the U.S., is still astounding to me.”

Aleshia Jones, Specialist, Health Promotions, Mississippi

“Juneteenth brings about many different feelings and emotions. 1) the reminder that slavery even existed and 2) that even when the government denounced slavery, there were many still in captivity under the false pretenses that they were still enslaved. I know personally my emotions run high around this subject that severely affected my lineage for over 400 years."

“On the positive side, I am grateful for the freeing of my people, your people, who gave us all a better chance at life here in America and even more recently with the social unrest, it was so uplifting to know that I work for an organization that puts action behind words. When the email came through that the American Lung Association would be recognizing Juneteenth as a day worth celebrating with time off, I was shocked and felt a sense of pride like none other. So thankful!”

Will Rucker, Division Director, Health Promotions, Western

“My wildest imagination only provides a partial understanding of how people who had been legally free for over two years felt when they heard the news about their freedom—more than two years after it happened."

“Juneteenth is a reminder that my experience isn't all there is and there is always room for hope. My struggles and pain, burdens and despair are real to me, but they are not where my story ends, nor are they indicative of the reality of others. In fact, they might be a mere reflection of the past that is lingering on like a shadow in the present."

“Just as a seed takes time to root before sprouting into a tree, often experience takes time to catch up to reality. Two seemingly paradoxical truths can exist in the exact same moment and time. Celebrating Juneteenth is like a cairn that assures me progress is happening, change has come, and better days are ahead.”

Aryn Stanley, National Manager, Marketing & Communications; Member, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council

“To me, Juneteenth is an observance that serves as a constant reminder that we are still walking in a slow march toward hopeful progress in racial equality and dismantling racial systems in America. June 19th has become a historical symbol of celebration for the emancipation of my ancestors, but with recent events like the murder of George Floyd, it’s a reminder that even 400 years after slavery, we are still fighting for equality and respect. Juneteenth reflects a hopefulness of freedom and emancipation from the oppression that we still experience to this day, but I use this day as a time to connect with my loved ones, reflect on the triumphs of the Black community and support efforts toward demanding justice for all.”

Juneteenth is not only a time to reflect on our country's history, but also a time to reflect on how that history influences our path forward. The shameful institution of slavery has ended but injustice in our society persists. We know that social determinants of health, i.e., where we live, work, learn and play, directly affects our health.

As the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease for more than 115 years, the American Lung Association is uniquely positioned to collaborate with trusted community partners to address lung health inequities that disproportionately affect Black Americans. We honor the Juneteenth holiday with a mind toward making structural change that will be sustained while standing in solidarity with the Black community.

To learn more about the Lung Association’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, please visit lung.org/diversity.

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