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By Aime Lykins, PSNS & IMF Public Affairs
Organized by four of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility’s Employee Resource Groups, it was standing room only at the command’s Juneteenth Celebration June 20. The ERG collaboration was the first of its kind and attendees spilled over into the hallways to enjoy sweet and savory foods, and hear remarks from Capt. David Murray, deputy commander, Northwest Regional Maintenance Center.
“There were four Employee Resource Groups involved — the Veterans ERG, Asian American and Pacific Islander ERG, Black, Indigenous and People of Color ERG, and the Puget Women’s Employee Networking Group,” said Rob Gainer, product line resource specialist, and chair for the Veterans ERG. “The BIPOC ERG provided some historical information for the event, AAPI ERG took the lead with food coordination, and PWENG assisted with food and event marketing. We all want to continue to work together to bring events like this to PSNS & IMF.”
Tiera Beauchamp, president of IFPTE Local 12 and co-lead of the AAPI ERG, shared that she was thankful for the opportunity to come together and support the command’s diversity, equity and inclusion goals.
“ERGs provide a safe space of education and celebration,” said Beauchamp. “We get to share our history, our culture, our current struggles and our values that we can contribute to the shipyard. I have a passion for bringing people together and creating safe, fun environments.”
Each group participated in planning to make sure the celebration was both inclusive and informative. It provided an opportunity to understand the meaning and impact of Juneteenth within America. Capt. Murray was selected by the planning team for his unique perspective and refined leadership experience.
“After talking with Rob Gainer, I wanted to share my perspective on understanding our history of slavery, as well as progress that has been made where people of color are free, integrated, and have equal rights and equal opportunity,” said Murray. “I also wanted to describe some ways that we can continually celebrate Juneteenth, in order to continue progress and not go backwards. Holidays, including Juneteenth, should not be celebrated only once a year.”
On Jan. 1, 1863, all enslaved people in Confederate States were declared legally free by way of the Emancipation Proclamation. Union soldiers, many of whom were Black, marched onto plantations and across cities in the South to spread the news of freedom. However, not everyone in the Confederate territory was immediately free. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective in 1863, it could not be implemented in places still under Confederate control. As a result, the Confederate state of Texas enslaved people until much later. Freedom finally came June 19, 1865, when approximately 2,000 Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state, were free by executive decree. The day came to be known as Juneteenth by the newly freed people in Texas. Juneteenth marks America’s second Independence Day.
“Juneteenth is an acknowledgment of our American history of slavery, as well as the much-deserved celebration of the end of slavery,” said Murray. “Juneteenth is an opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made and the work that is necessary to continually celebrate this federal holiday.”
Although it has long been celebrated within Black communities across the nation, many Americans are just now learning the history of the federal holiday. The historical legacy of Juneteenth shows the value of never giving up hope in uncertain times. It is noteworthy that the Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to enslaved people living in Union states. The Thirteenth Amendment, passed by Congress Dec. 6, 1865, officially abolished slavery as an institution throughout the U.S. and its territories.
The federal recognition of Juneteenth is one of President Biden’s efforts to reconcile America's dark and troubled past with slavery. He described slavery as a moral stain on the country and said enslavement of African Americans was the nation's original sin.
Murray emphasized that in order to help rights and liberties stay in place, making time to vote is imperative. It is legislation passed at the executive level, driven by voters, that helps make progress for the rights of Black Americans.
“I fully encourage the workforce to understand the current rules for registering to vote, perform the necessary work to understand the candidates and issues, and then exercise your right to vote,” said Murray. “I think it’s important to share the history of voting with our youth and our younger generation. Hopefully, a greater appreciation for voting can be achieved and that voting is not taken for granted.”
PSNS & IMF’s Juneteenth celebration was a remarkable ERG collaborative event, and a beautiful segue into future cultural celebrations throughout the year.
“I was extremely excited that the participating ERGs used our collective resources to help bring light to Juneteenth,” said Beauchamp. “I’m looking forward to the future collaborations ahead, and all the PSNS employees we can impact in a positive way as we move in solidarity.”
Murray shared his final thoughts on the importance of respecting every individual and making space at the table for all.
“My call to action would be to promote fairness, equality and inclusion for all at work and away from work,” said Murray. “I'll also say be willing to be an ally, best described as someone that is willing to look out for the interest of others, even though their perspective is different.”