Juneteenth, Storytelling, and Inclusive Mobility Support 06.18.2024 | Yvette Byrd, Ruhi Van Andel

Let me, for a moment, take you back to a time when relocation for many people was involuntary and to a series of events that changed the plight of Black Americans. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, noting that all slaves were free. But it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, over two years later, that the Union army rode into Galveston, TX, freeing the last enslaved persons by executive order in the United States.

Juneteenth National Independence Day became the newest federal holiday in June 2021, commemorating the release of the bondage of slavery in the United States. But if it wasn’t for teacher and activist Ms. Opal Lee, labeled as the “Grand Mother of Juneteenth,” we may not have known much about this historical event. Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom, unity, and equality, and in a few short years, many communities have embraced the occasion with parades and family and volunteer events held nationwide on June 19th.  As I reflect on the wars and conflicts worldwide, knowing that we can celebrate diversity, choice, and freedom for all here in the United States is worthy of a celebration.

But it’s also got me thinking about the value of storytelling and educating others by vocalizing our unique journey and needs. Having lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and the US Civil Rights Movement, Opal Lee has seen (and lived) a lot of history in her 96 years. As a retired teacher and passionate activist, she has changed the course of history by telling her story and emphasizing the cause of making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Juneteenth is about the quest for a better life, freedom from oppression, and the pursuit of human rights – narratives that extend far beyond the United States, resonating with many people worldwide. In this sense, Juneteenth offers an opportunity for diverse cultures to come together to celebrate these shared values and stories, fostering greater collective understanding and solidarity among people from all walks of life.

Storytelling is a powerful connective tool that can change outcomes for those beyond our communities. So, if we do one thing on Juneteenth, let’s actively listen to the journeys of others and be brave enough to share our own stories.

The Mobility Context

As a Team Lead, I support our Relocation Counselors as they guide our clients’ mobile talent through their relocation experience. As the first line of support to these employees, it’s our responsibility to ensure that they receive the targeted support to meet their unique needs and that their journey is made as safe, successful, and seamless as possible. To achieve this, our counselors are experts in the delicate art of earning trust, listening empathetically, and actively responding with customized solutions. But the reality is, if our clients’ policies don’t support diverse needs, this limits what we can offer these employees.

As HR and mobility managers seek to improve the support they provide to ALL employees, here is what we recommend corporate relocation programs include to support diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging of Black employees in the relocation lifecycle:

Start With Your Team: It makes sense that a diverse team will be inherently more capable of supporting diverse employees. While many companies are already focusing efforts to increase diversity at all levels, ensuring that this trickles down to the HR and mobility function helps to foster trust and reduce a reluctance to relocate among Black and other minority talent. This also includes the organizations you partner with; minority-owned or diverse relocation service providers are more likely to provide specialized, culturally sensitive support for diverse populations.

Pre-Decision Supports: Some destinations may present more challenges for Black employees (and other Indigenous people of color), but this doesn’t mean they should be excluded from these opportunities. Instead, provide employees with targeted information on the location’s racial demographics, community and cultural organizations, and resources for Black professionals to help them make informed decisions and set them up for success. These organizations can also provide critical social support systems for relocating employees, allowing them to find mentors or engage with the broader community in their destination location.

Flexible Choices: Research in the mobility space has consistently confirmed that flexible programs and policies are more effective at meeting the needs of diverse employees. When employees are empowered with choice, they can create a relocation experience that works for them without enduring the uncomfortable, oft tedious process of requesting an exception.

Post-Relocation Feedback & Ongoing Support: It all comes back to storytelling! Smart companies don’t forget about their returning assignees; they leverage their feedback about their experience – whether through surveys or interviews — and act upon it, changing systems or policies where necessary. Employee resource groups or task forces focused on meeting the needs of Black professionals can be involved in this process to regularly assess the effectiveness of the relocation programs in meeting the needs of Black employees and identifying any gaps in support. Consider extending some counseling supports, like mentorship programs, beyond the relocation to foster ongoing development and increase the ROI of the relocation experience.

This is not an exhaustive list but rather a great starting point for companies focused on ensuring that all employees have equal access to opportunities and are equipped with the tools they need to thrive. From Juneteenth to Pride Month to World Refugee Day, the month of June is ripe with opportunities for companies to demonstrate focused action toward greater diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. So, create safe spaces for storytelling, and ensure you’re listening.

As for Ms. Opal Lee, this past Friday, she was given the keys to a new house in Fort Worth, Texas, built on the site of the home she was forced to vacate by a racist mob when she was 12 in 1939. A project that was years in the making, Lee received her keys just in time for Juneteenth. Now, that’s a relocation story worth sharing!

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Written by Yvette Byrd

Based in Virginia, Yvette is an On-Site Team Lead and a passionate DEI advocate. She is an avid walker, loves history and an event Photographer.

Written by Ruhi Van Andel

Ruhi is the Digital Content Specialist on Weichert’s Marketing team. Leveraging a decade of experience in writing and marketing, she develops buzz-worthy content for the company’s website, social media channels, and client & colleague communications. Ruhi is a cat person, in case you were wondering.

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