Nānā ka maka, hana ka lima, or, observe with the eyes, work with the hands. When those wiser than us invite us into their waters, we must hold our paddles with patience and listen before trying to navigate the waʻa (canoe). At Hawaiian Airlines, we hold our paddles in observance of Juneteenth and turn to our greatest asset – our employees – to reflect on the day’s historical significance.
Juneteenth — a combination of June and 19 — is the nation’s second Independence Day, when African Americans still enslaved despite the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years prior and the end of the Civil War were liberated.
Of the many hands working to foster greater inclusivity at Hawaiian Airlines are our Network of Black Employees and Allies (NBEA) Employee Resource Group members. NBEA is the brainchild of our Black employees looking to encourage allyship and elevate the voices of their fellow Black colleagues within the company. Now, over a year since its formation, the group continues to build safe spaces for employees of all backgrounds to explore race, amplify Black voices and advocate for solutions to social challenges within and beyond the workplace.
Michael Harvey, senior manager of IT - common services, is proud to call himself a founding member and vice president of NBEA. Born and raised in Texas, Harvey’s connection to Juneteenth extends beyond a single day and roots deep into his genealogy. “To me, Juneteenth means celebration and remembering the generations that came before me. I can only imagine my ancestors receiving this news in Texas, years after slavery had ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. My family is from Central Texas, so I'm sure the news was even further delayed for them as it reached Galveston, Texas, first and then took some time to travel north,” he explained.
Harvey grew up commemorating Juneteenth with family while in Texas. Now based in Honolulu, he continues the celebration by taking a long weekend to honor the day alongside his wife and daughter and connect with family on the mainland. “Many reunions of Black families in Texas are planned around this time. The Hemphill Family Reunion, for example, started in 1973 and has been celebrated for decades. I attended since I was small, and it is still gathering generations and generations of aunties (pronounced AINT-TEEs) and uncles, cousins, etc.,” he added.
NBEA members are also using this time to reflect. Earlier this week, the group joined a virtual discussion to share what Juneteenth means to them.
Terry Hill, manager of SMS and safety programs and a founding member of NBEA, views today as an opportunity to learn a new perspective. “One of the things we can take away [from Juneteenth] is that our experiences as people, including generational experiences, should be shared so we can better understand one another,” he underscored during the discussion. “If we don’t try to understand another person or their cultural perspective, we can never move beyond our differences.”
Asiana Ponciano, strategic talent leader of employee voice and experience and NBEA member, believes today should also be a time to build allyship. “Juneteenth is about coming together, celebrating freedom and overcoming hardships as one ʻohana. I can’t say that my ancestry ties to this historic event. Still, I believe it’s important that I use the time to reflect because it is an important moment in our country’s past,” she added during the conversation. “It’s critical for us to recognize these pivotal moments in history and for allies to stand in solidarity with those who celebrate.”
When asked for his thoughts on how allies can commemorate Juneteenth and practice inclusivity daily, Harvey said the first step is understanding. “I believe understanding what Juneteenth is and each day recognizing that although slavery is in our past, generations continue to feel its impacts and suffer from racial discrimination. Allies should recognize and celebrate the holiday, but also try to imagine the joy and shock of our ancestors finding out that slavery ended years after it actually happened,” he explained.
Lifting one another, listening with intention, having challenging conversations, striving to become better allies – these are all ways the people of Hawaiian Airlines are paddling together to push our waʻa forward. To learn more about Juneteenth and how to be an ally, explore these additional resources recommended by our NBEA members:
Well-made movies about the slave experience, such as "12 Years a Slave," "Roots," "Amistad," "Glory," etc.
Books by Black authors, like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Colson Whitehead, Ibram X. Kendi, etc.