Standing next to my son, we scanned the list of names on a memorial plaque. The sun overhead was intense, but our curiosity and determination were unwavering. I was suddenly overcome with emotion.
We had found it: “Lafayette County, Mississippi,” read the plaque’s title. That was my husband’s home county. The list of names that followed commemorated one of the worst horrors of American history: a list of those who had been lynched in the decades after the Civil War in the Jim Crow South.
I took my teenage son to The Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama, the first memorial dedicated to preserving the legacy of enslaved people terrorized by lynching, because I wanted him to see the horrors of our history with his own eyes. I wanted him to feel the raw emotion, the sights, the sounds of our past – the history of slavery and racism in America.
As Cisco commemorates Juneteenth for the second straight year – more than 150 years after the last Black American slaves were freed – I see my family’s history being validated, and see myself represented. At Cisco, we are inviting our employees to get curious about systems of oppression, to get close to the lived experience of those impacted by it, and to leverage their empathy to do something about it.
Most U.S. companies only started honoring Juneteenth over the last few years, though its significance to Black Americans has always been enormous. While President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that the last slaves in Texas were freed by federal troops.
While Independence Day on July 4th has been celebrated as a major American holiday across history, Black Independence Day has never held the same place in the broader culture. For far too long, our country has celebrated its founding principles – equality, justice, and fairness – without recognizing that those principles have not applied to all citizens throughout our history.
By taking the Juneteenth Pledge last year to make June 19th an annual holiday, and aligning with partners like Global Citizen, Cisco sent a message to the world that corporations can help be a driving force for societal change. I’m so proud that Cisco is fostering an internal culture that promotes curiosity, proximity and empathy. Our Social Justice Beliefs & Actions will be the blueprint for our purpose: to power an Inclusive Future for All.
Although Juneteenth commemorates Black Americans’ independence, we hope this is a holiday that the entire Cisco organization around the world will celebrate as an example of what’s possible when people are committed to values of equity and fairness. It took nearly 100 years after Independence Day for Black Americans to get their independence, and it took 100 more years for our culture to acknowledge and validate that experience.
But change has happened – we are celebrating Juneteenth today! And while I reflect on our history, I am also thinking about the future; and how each of us can do our part individually and collectively to bring change that will positively impact generations of people.
When we left the memorial, we stopped for water. On the wall of a coffee shop, there was another sign that drew my eye. It offered words of hope:
“Together We Prevail.”
Together, we will.