On November 17, 2020, the Port of Seattle Commission adopted Resolution 3781 amending the Salary and Benefits Policy Directive to add an eleventh paid holiday commemorating Juneteenth (on June 19) for non-represented employees. Juneteenth, otherwise known as Black Independence Day, commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas heard the news of their freedom, two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth has been celebrated at the Port of Seattle since 2003 when Lilyian Caswell-Isley, former Social Responsibility Manager and President of Blacks in Government, first introduced it. Every June, Port employees have looked forward to Juneteenth festivities with dynamic speakers, storytellers, food, African drumming and dancing, fashion shows, and a marketplace by vendors from the African diaspora.
The Port’s vision for equity is to develop an organization that mirrors — throughout its breadth of operations and services and within its leadership hierarchy — the diversity of our community, instills principles of equity in its culture, and ensures a fair and intentional distribution of opportunities with the goal of expanding economic development and quality of life for all. As we work to realize this vision, it is critical that we name and recognize existing and historical inequities, so that we can heal from them and address them together. By failing to acknowledge inequities, we play a role in perpetuating them.
The addition of Juneteenth as an official Port holiday is one way that we, as an organization, celebrate the achievement and culture of African-Americans, acknowledge the harmful legacy of slavery and generational inequities of systemic racism, and show that we believe that Black Lives Matter. It is one way that we send a message to our community and our employees that we are centering racial justice in our work.
Here's how non-represented past and present Port employees feel about this new holiday:
Stephen P. Metruck, Executive Director, Port of Seattle
“Designating Juneteenth as a Port holiday advances our goal to make the Port more equitable. It is my hope that a holiday gives our Port employees the opportunity to learn more about the history that underpins the systemic racism we still see today, and to reflect on the progress we have made towards a just society and the work that remains.”
Lilyian Caswell-Isley, (Retired) Manager of Social Responsibility
(2008) President of Blacks in Government — Port of Seattle Chapter
“I’m so grateful for the Port and their leadership. So many organizations have just swept race issues under the rug. Not the Port of Seattle. They are embracing the problem and starting the healing process by making Juneteenth an official holiday. It’s a huge step in the right direction.”
Delmas Whittaker, Sr. Manager Fishing and Vessel Services, Maritime Division
(Current) President of Blacks in Government, Port of Seattle Chapter
“What does it mean to me? This effort reinforces my belief that Port Commissioners and Senior Executives are committed to making significant strides in the area of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. It makes a statement that we recognize that Juneteenth marks the end of a dark period in our American History (specifically, Black History), but it opens the doors for us to celebrate, educate, and inform our fellow employees on the significance of this day and why it is so important that we (all) must not forget, for we will be destined to make similar mistakes in the future! As with Dr. Martin Luther King’s Holiday, we should take this opportunity to reflect and educate with our families and friends for a better tomorrow. Juneteenth is History! Not just Black History, but American History. Thank you in advance to our Port Commissioners and Senior Executives for your bold commitment to your staff. Furthermore, thank you for making this dream a reality.”
Terri Palmer, Sr. Building Permit Coordinator
SEA Airport Building Department
“Recognizing June 19 (Juneteenth) as an official Port holiday during a time when we’re fighting so hard for social justice and racial equality in our divided nation, for me, would beacon a resounding message of solidarity and hope that the Port of Seattleis committed to all of our employees; to the work of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; and demonstrates that the legacy of emancipation is not only an aspect of Black and American History, but also a call to action.
Instituting this day as an official Port holiday —
- the day that 250,000 enslaved men and women of the Confederacy on plantations in the state of Texas learned that they were free
- the day two and half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 declaring "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free"
- a day that many of us in the Black community already celebrate as our true Independence Day, our Emancipation Day, our Freedom Day
would grant a much needed day-off opportunity to inform and educate; to honor, celebrate, and acknowledge in concert with our organization, the past, present, and future of our Black community. This holiday has been a long time coming, just like that day, back on June 19, 1865 when Union Army Major General Gordon Granger showed up in Galveston, Texas and issued General Orders #3!
So proud to be part of an organization that recognizes the importance of commemorating the historical significance of Juneteenth enough to make it an official holiday!”
“Approving Juneteenth as an official Port Holiday means to me that the Port is not just about talk, but action as well when it comes to Equity in Action! It means actual acknowledgement of the African-American struggle for equity and social justice, enough to believe they deserve a day to celebrate their independence, just like any other Independence Day, such as the 4th of July! It would definitely set a precedent in how to truly start promoting racial equity in the workplace.”
Tamaka Thornton, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program Manager
Diversity in Contracting
“Making Juneteenth an official holiday for the Port of Seattle would mean that not only is the Port of Seattle acknowledging a pivotal moment in Black History but the history of the United States of America. It allows for employees and the public at large to have an opportunity to learn a part of history that has often been white-washed and not given the credit it deserves in shaping this country and the contributions of Black/African-Americans. The Port of Seattle would also be setting a potential precedent for other public entities and agencies to follow suit in making Juneteenth an official holiday.”
Marie Bell, AV Maintenance Planner/Coordinator
“We celebrate Juneteenth to remind ourselves that Black history is American history. A symbol of freedom and for celebration, education and connection. The Port’s partnership in observing Juneteenth is a giant step forward, showing its commitment to diversity and inclusion for all of us.”
Pennie Saum, Process Improvement Program Manager
Office of Strategic Initiatives
“The Port’s commitment to adopting Juneteenth as a Port-paid holiday shows a commitment that Black history is American history. This precedent also shows that when voices come together in unison, great change can be made. It says to me that the time to be hidden and quiet is no longer. That each and every one of you matter and are what makes the Port of Seattle the organization that it is — ever-evolving to be the best that it can be.”
Anika Klix, Total Rewards Consultant
“This is an important step towards becoming a truly antiracist organization committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Over the past two years, I have seen a tremendous commitment on behalf of leaders and the Commission to lead by example, open up dialog among all employees on issues of race and racial equity, and providing much-needed training and education on racial justice issues to bring us all on the same page. I’m so grateful to work for an organization that believes in this important and vital work towards racial equity and inclusion. I believe it will make us stronger, more innovative, and a more engaged workforce.”
This article is a collaboration between the Port of Seattle’s Human Resources Department; the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; and The Port chapter of Blacks in Government (BIG)