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A culture of learning: employees share how they recognize Juneteenth

Our leadership team consistently facilitates conversations among employees on what we can do to align with the needs of our intentionally diverse workforce. Out of these conversations came an overwhelming consensus to formally recognize Juneteenth at BlueCross.

Juneteenth is referred to as African-American Independence Day. It commemorates June 19, 1865, when slaves in remote Galveston, Texas were officially notified they’d been freed by President Abraham Lincoln — freedom granted through the Emancipation Proclamation more than two years earlier.

And starting in 2021, we declared it a paid company holiday.

As part of this year’s celebration, four BlueCross employees share what they’ve learned and how they plan to recognize Juneteenth.

Ashley Brown, consumer advocate

Ashley Brown and her son, Jesse

For Ashley and her family, celebrating Juneteenth is a life-long tradition.

She’s had the opportunity to attend Juneteenth celebrations in Galveston, Texas, the location of the official proclamation ending slavery. 

Last year, Ashley and her son attended a Juneteenth festival in Memphis, an event that’s taken place for more than 20 years. It offers the opportunity to view African American art, games, and learn more about the history of the holiday.

Ashley plans to celebrate this year by taking time to give back to the community and hosting a family fun day.

“We’re able to trace our history back to second generation slaves, so my mother will share documents that have been located with the children in our family.”

“I’m thankful to BlueCross for understanding the importance of this day and for taking the initiative to make it a holiday before it was discussed on the national level,” Ashley says.

“I think this is something that everyone can learn more about. Juneteenth is another thread of American history that has helped shape our country.”

Cathy Overstreet, network manager II

Cathy Overstreet and her husband, Mark

Cathy celebrated Juneteenth for the first-time last year at a festival in Cumberland Square Park in Bristol, Tenn. The event had speakers, performers, and nonprofit organizations on-site to provide education and resources to the community.

“Through the expression of poetry, music and arts at last year’s festival, I was able to hear more about the disparities across our country today,” Cathy says.

“I recognized how important it is to listen because there is so much more I can learn.”

This year, she plans to attend the Juneteenth Freedom Festival at Emory & Henry College, where they’ll have music, arts, crafts, dancing, and information about the history of Juneteenth.

“It’s wonderful seeing so many community leaders being present and supportive as an ally.”

Carolyn Miller, senior instructional design consultant

Carolyn Miller

Carolyn first celebrated Juneteenth as a teenager in the 1970’s in Anchorage, Alaska.  She recalls a weekend-long event in a downtown park where most everyone would come out to learn and celebrate together.

And while she’s recognized the holiday for most of her life, she took time in 2021 to learn more about the origins of the celebration and to attend a genealogy workshop at Chattanooga State Community College.

This year, she’ll plan to attend some of the events hosted by the Chattanooga Festival of Black Arts & Ideas. This festival includes the Inaugural Juneteenth Freedom Run & Mrs. Opal Lee Walk.

“I’m proud that Juneteenth is now recognized as a national holiday,” Carolyn says. “And the fact that my company has chosen to observe it as an actual holiday is huge!”

Amanda Yeggy, quality assurance specialist III

Amanda Yeggy and her son, Zach

Amanda first learned about Juneteenth in 2020. She celebrated it with her family the next year with a summer history lesson focused on the meaning of the day and how making it a holiday is an important step for the future.

“History helps us see where we’ve come and have a better perspective on where to go from here.” 

This year, she plans to concentrate on ways she and her children can be proactive in promoting equality and respect in their everyday lives. She hopes that schools will incorporate education around this day in the future.

“I was sad to be unaware of something so important,” Amanda says. “I can’t imagine the impact the day had and to know it really isn’t that far back in our country’s history is important to remember.”

About Katie Taylor Barnes, Communications Specialist

A photo of the authorKatie joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2020. As a Chattanooga transplant, she has experience in brand journalism, social media management and employee communications.

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