On June 17, 2021 when Juneteenth was officially declared a federal holiday, it was the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was adopted in 1983. Here at Curaleaf, we also declared Juneteenth an official companywide holiday. We were able to do so in large part because of the work and advocacy of one of our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), “Curaleaf in Color.”
Curaleaf in Color is a group that strives for influential change within Curaleaf and seeks additional ideas and opportunities from members and colleagues that align with our overall Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) mission and our steadfast focus to remain Rooted in Good.
Also known as “Freedom Day,” Juneteenth is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in our country and celebrates African American freedom, education, and achievement.
Observing Juneteenth as a US holiday and an official holiday at Curaleaf is an important step in recognizing systematic racism and affecting positive momentum forward in our country and company. This is precisely why the Curaleaf ERG decided to solidify Juneteenth as a holiday.
“Last year when Curaleaf in Color started the Juneteenth conversation, team members hosted education and learnings of the history of this date and the meaning of it for Black Americans,” said Lanett Austin, founding member of the DEI Steering Committee and Senior Director of Talent Management and Diversity at Curaleaf. “The feedback from those learnings was so profound it carried over to this year in getting it approved as a Curaleaf holiday.”
Curaleaf in Color harnessed the authentic power of ERGs to uphold the company’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion - in this case signifying Juneteenth as an official holiday. Beyond taking the time off, the group has helped educate the company through recommending ways to recognize and celebrate Juneteenth, such as supporting Black owned businesses like restaurants, stores or dispensaries.
Al Ochosa, Director of Insurance, Risk, & Safety Compliance at Curaleaf, is one of the original Co-Leads for Curaleaf in Color. He shared that he is “blessed to have the opportunity to support and guide our ongoing mission to create a safe space for BIPOC members of Curaleaf and our allies by promoting diversity and inclusion, sharing knowledge, and amplifying experiences of BIPOC in the cannabis industry.” After hearing that Juneteenth was being recognized as an approved Curaleaf holiday this year, he was “so excited to see our senior leadership team take action to show they value, understand, and want to highlight the significance of this date in history while also providing our Team Members with a day for remembrance, reflection, and self-care.”
Raheem Uqdah, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility and Curaleaf In Color’s Advisor and Coach, says Curaleaf in Color was launched to “create a safe space for BIPOC at Curaleaf, find each other and decompress together. To figure out how we can build a more inclusive industry together, and I think we are seeing exactly how impactful what we've built can be.”
When leadership listens to team members, a collaborative type of environment is fostered - just like here at Curaleaf. This environment makes for fertile ground for ERGs to truly thrive.
“It starts with truly listening to what your team members need and want; and then providing them a safe space to feel included, valued and recognized,” said Lanett Austin. “Once you successfully create and foster that environment; the creativity, ideas, solutions, planning and execution of meaningful and impactful initiatives (like Juneteenth becoming a company-wide holiday) comes to fruition.”
Staff Pharmacist Duclas Charles, PharmD, another member of the Curaleaf in Color leadership team, said he’s, “pleased to serve as a Co-Lead and be a part of the task force sparking a cultural paradigm shift within our company and the cannabis industry as a whole. The impact of our ERGs goes beyond our mission to support our members internally but also about how we can educate the greater organization and affect change through education and collaboration.”
What is the connection between Juneteenth as an official holiday and upholding Curaleaf’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion?
“When we talk about American history, Juneteenth is equally part of our American history similarly to the other recognized Curaleaf holidays,” said Raheem Uqdah. “So our team felt it should be included as such,” He noted that declaring Juneteenth as a company holiday means “publicly acknowledging that America has always had two sides to ‘liberty and justice for all.’ And once we acknowledge the lopsided application of the law we can work to overcome its many inequities. That is why I find it so significant.”
As we observe Juneteenth this year, may we celebrate African American freedom, education, and achievement, continue to learn from the past, and commit to paving a positive future filled with compassion, equity and inclusion.