Pharrell Williams Helps Announce Juneteenth As State Holiday in Virginia

“This is our chance to lead, to truly embrace the importance of Juneteenth and treat it as a celebration of freedom that black people deserve.”

Pharrell Williams took the stage on Tuesday to declare Juneteenth a state holiday in Virginia.

Williams, who grew up in Virginia Beach, gave a powerful speech alongside Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam that announced June 19th – the day that celebrates the end of American slavery in 1865 and is widely known as “Juneteenth” – as an official paid day off for all state employees.

Gov. Northam reflected on a conversation he had with Williams, in which the musician explained the importance of Juneteenth and encouraged the politician to make it a legal holiday in the state. In his moving speech, Williams referenced his Black ancestors and Virginia’s slave trade past.

“From this moment on, when you look at the vastness of the night sky, and you see those stars moving up there, know that those stars are our African ancestors dancing,” he said. “They’re dancing in celebration because their lives are finally being acknowledged.”

Williams added, “I can’t say it too many times up here today, a paid holiday. It’s not the end of it. It’s merely just the beginning. Their lives matter. Their descendants’ lives matter. Black lives matter in the eyes of the commonwealth.”

Although Gov. Northam said the commemoration and paid day off will begin this Friday, June 19th for all executive branch state employees only, he emphasized that he is backing legislation that will make Juneteenth a legal holiday for all schools, courts, and local governments in Virginia.

In his speech, Williams encouraged businesses to follow this example. “I would like to see corporations that call Virginia their home give people the paid day off,” he said.

Juneteenth has yet to be known as a federal holiday, but several companies like Twitter, Nike, Postmates, JCPenney, and the NFL have declared that they will give employees time off as they recognize the day as a company holiday.

In an announcement, CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey tweeted, “Countries and regions around the world have their own days to celebrate emancipation, and we will do the work to make those dates company holidays everywhere we are present.”

“This year, as we work together as a family and in our communities to combat the racial injustices that remain deeply rooted into the fabric of our society, the NFL will observe Juneteenth on Friday, June 19th as a recognized holiday and our league offices will be closed,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced in a statement.

The list of major companies recognizing Juneteenth a company-wide holiday appears to be growing, but many still acknowledge that they have a lot of work to do in order to reach racial equity and equal opportunity for all BIPOC.

According to Forbes, Nike CEO John Donahoe said that the commemoration of Juneteenth is an “important opportunity to better commemorate and celebrate Black history and culture.”

Donahoe added, “When we say that Black Lives Matter, it applies to the world outside of Nike and, importantly, it applies to our Black teammates within Nike. Simply put, we need to hold ourselves to a high standard given the heritage of our company and our brand.”

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