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Why we honor Juneteenth as a company holiday

Originally published in The Tennessean, June 2021

My great-great-grandparents were slaves, my grandfather was a Memphis sanitation worker with a third-grade education, and my grandmother was a maid.

So, hard work and overcoming adversity — including obstacles we didn’t choose — is woven into my family history. And diversity is part of my everyday life. It’s who I am. And I’m pleased that BlueCross has long valued that it’s part of who we are as a company, as well.

We can’t effectively serve our 3.4 million members if we don’t understand and value their different backgrounds and experiences. That’s why we’ve intentionally cultivated a diverse workforce.

One way we show we care about our members and employees is by listening. Last year, amid a renewed focus on racism and social injustice, our leadership team asked, “What can we do differently?” We began facilitating candid conversations across our workforce.

From those conversations, we heard loud and clear that Juneteenth is a historical milestone worth honoring and celebrating, and long overdue. 

What Juneteenth means

In many communities, 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.

This year we’ve made Juneteenth a paid company holiday. Our purpose was two-fold: celebrating a milestone of freedom and reflecting on the horrific events of the past so we can all move forward together. We’re also hosting a series of internal educational events and activities leading up to the company-wide observance, and considering other initiatives, as well.

I’m the oldest of four, and my father would always tell us that Juneteenth was a time to express gratitude for those who came before us.  No matter our situation in life, things could be so much worse. As I grew older, I came to understand what he meant.

What our employees say

Recently other employees shared similar conversations with their families, how they have celebrated Juneteenth and why it carries such weight for them personally.

Timothy Bowman, Sr., a subrogation analyst on our legal team, will make Juneteenth a four-generation family affair, celebrating with his father, son and grandson, among others. “Making Juneteenth a company holiday shows that BlueCross understands the injustice and suffering that my ancestors had to endure,” he said.  

Meyoshia Powell, a behavioral health case manager, learned like I did about the holiday from her parents. “They were my Black History 101 teachers,” she said. “At an early age, I knew the definition of ‘slave’ and was troubled by it. Juneteenth finally and officially stamped the date in history that African-Americans have free will and aren’t property; we are America.”

Medical Home Partnership Care Coordinator Jennifer Carroll got goosebumps from the news. “My excitement came from a feeling of relief and motivation,” she said. “Our company is part of a movement that I’m hoping will only improve our options and our choices in everything we do.”

Ebony Owens, a provider network manager, reflected on the historical significance. “When we gather, we’re able to display and appreciate the talents of our culture and our people,” she said, “and pay homage to our ancestors who paved the way.”  

Since our founding in 1945, BlueCross has continued to look at what we can do better for our members, customers, communities and employees. We stand for inclusion and the inherent worth of each person by firmly standing against racism and injustice.

We hope our employees and their loved ones use this opportunity to learn more about Juneteenth, celebrate freedom and give back to our communities — and we hope you’ll join them.

About Dakasha Winton, Senior Vice President, Chief Government Relations Officer

A photo of the authorDakasha leads our state and federal government relations efforts and oversees analysis of proposed legislative and regulatory changes. She also serves as the BlueCross liaison to federal and state industry associations and advocacy groups.

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