As more and more companies move to recognize Juneteenth as paid holiday this year, the Los Angeles Lakers will become one of the latest organizations to join in on Friday.
For anyone less familiar with the holiday of Juneteenth, or what it’s celebrating, my colleagues at Vox.com put together this helpful explainer:
A portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth,” Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that they were free from the institution of slavery. But, woefully, this was almost two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation; the Civil War was still going on, and when it ended, Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger traveled to Texas and issued an order stating that all enslaved people were free, establishing a new relationship between “former masters and slaves” as “employer and hired labor.” As much as Juneteenth represents freedom, it also represents how emancipation was tragically delayed for enslaved people in the deepest reaches of the Confederacy.
Newly freed black people celebrated the first Juneteenth in 1866 to commemorate liberation — with food, singing, and the reading of spirituals — and take pride in their progress. But a century and a half later, Juneteenth is still not taught in most schools, nor is the event a federal holiday despite decades of pushing from activists. In 1980, Texas became the first state to declare Juneteenth an official holiday. In 2020, Washington, DC, and nearly every state recognize the day as a holiday or observance.
According to Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times, the Lakers plan to celebrate the holiday in a few ways:
The Lakers will also give their staff the day off and asked that they spend it reflecting on and educating themselves further about the history and current state of race in America. They have distributed reading materials to staff members and offered the screening of the documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble.” Lewis is a civil rights activist who was one of the original Freedom Riders and has been a U.S. congressman since 1987.
The Lakers are planning to make a donation in an effort to “combat some of the current inequalities that exist in the Black communities we serve.” They will donate iPads to four organizations focused on education with which they have existing relationships: 4WRD Progress, Watts Skills Academy, Crete Academy, Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles.
That documentary actually doesn’t come out until July 3, so that is a really cool perk for anyone in the organization who wants an advance viewing.
And during a time when a coalition of NBA players led by Lakers guard Avery Bradley and Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving has been calling on the league to take tangible action to fight systemic racism, the Lakers recognizing this holiday and making the financial commitments Ganguli reports is a start, and just the latest examples of the Lakers making themselves a part of the movement.
On Thursday, the team announced that it had hired Dr. Karida Brown as its first ever Director of Racial Equality and Action, tasking her with creating “a curriculum to help the Lakers staff enrich their knowledge on today’s most urgent topics, as well as helping to identify ways the team can be more active and efficient in creating change.”
Especially on the heels of that hire, the Lakers giving their employees a paid holiday to celebrate and reflect on Juneteenth is yet another step in the right direction.