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How to Make Juneteenth More Than an Exercise in Branding

By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. | Last updated on

Juneteenth, the now-federal holiday that has risen to mainstream prominence in the wake of George Floyd's murder, gets a lot of press around this time of year. Companies large and small are happy to promote awareness of the holiday. Many now give employees the day off, and in recent years they've placed an increased focus on diversity and inclusion efforts. Events, celebrations, and social media messages abound on and around June 19th.

This is, of course, a good thing. But some want Juneteenth to mean more. There's been some pushback on "rainbow capitalism" during Pride month, for example, which is the name LGTBQ+ advocates give to corporations who are happy to brand their products with rainbows (some with less success than others) during June but seem mostly interested in sales, not equality.

For law firms looking to increase diversity and inclusion efforts, June 19th is a great opportunity to consider what efforts we will make not just toward celebrating the end of slavery, but actively promoting diversity and inclusion through concrete and helpful actions. Below are some small steps you might be in a position to make.

1. Take a Pro Bono Case

What better way to celebrate June 19th than by taking on a pro bono case? There are countless opportunities for lawyers to help individuals and groups with issues that may disproportionately affect Black Americans. Taking a civil rights case pro bono is a win-win for all involved. Please consider it if you are able to.

If you aren't sure where to start, you could try TurnSignl, a mobile app that provides on-demand legal aid to people who have been pulled over or are otherwise interacting with police. It was started after George Floyd's murder as a way to deescalate high-stress situations involving the public and the police, and it is one way that attorneys can help Black Americans and others protect their civil rights.

2. Consider an Actionable Plan for Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

The Rooney Rule has come under fire a bit after former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores filed a discrimination lawsuit against the NFL. But the lawsuit alleges the NFL did not follow the Rooney Rule, not that the Rooney Rule is itself a bad idea. If you are in a position to hire associates in 2022-23, consider implementing a form of the Rooney Rule, meaning that you'll pledge to interview minority candidates for every open position at the firm. It's a good way to ensure that you are looking at all qualified candidates.

3. Attend — or Even Sponsor — a Juneteenth Event

This one has a little bit of branding about it, sure. But it can also be a tangible way to make you and your firm a part of the Juneteenth holiday. As Alicia Austion, the executive director at the Juneteenth Foundation, says: "It's . . . an American holiday that we all should lean in and really acknowledge and support." And regardless of your race or ethnicity, the end of slavery is certainly something all Americans can recognize, celebrate, and honor. Why not have your firm participate in something positive and uplifting?

4. Give Employees the Day Off

It's a big ask for any firm to shut down for a day. Particularly for small and mid-size firms, a day off is money lost that can be hard to recover. But it also demonstrates to your employees that you care about the holiday, diversity and inclusion, and work-life balance. If it simply isn't feasible, that's one thing. But if it's possible, please consider it.

Parts of the Country Will Celebrate Differently

Everyone has favorite holidays and some that they don't celebrate. In many parts of the country, Juneteenth is very much a new holiday, and many, including some Black Americans, are still deciding whether and how much the holiday means to them and the traditions associated with it.

So whether it's the day off, taking a pro bono case without much fanfare, or whatever else you decide to do, the important thing is to be sincere. As demonstrated by the pushback against rainbow capitalism, sometimes it is better to do something small and tangible that actually helps than overreach in an insincere way.

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