Neighborhood House (NH) is committed to becoming a fully inclusive, anti-racist, multi-cultural organization. As such, we are reevaluating our policies, including our holiday structure, so that we can continue to create a more equitable organizational culture.
Today NH has 306 staff members who speak over 40 languages. 72% of staff members identify as Black, Indigenous, or POC. In 2021, NH conducted a racial equity organizational assessment. Out of 113 staff participants, 33% self identified as immigrants and 36% of those staff said that English was not their primary language. These numbers help to show the diversity that is Neighborhood House.
NH currently celebrates the federally recognized holidays that the school districts follow: New Year’s Day, MLK Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Veterans Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
As of June 2021, Juneteenth was recognized federally as a holiday. One big update around our NH holidays is the addition of Juneteenth. The Neighborhood House Board of Directors approved Juneteenth as an official agency holiday at one of their last meetings.
Our current holiday structure that is recognized and used is based on Christian-centric values and beliefs, and others celebrate events or individuals that are not significant to many people for various reasons. NH has many people from all around the world, with many different faiths or no faith at all.
To continue to only recognize the current holiday structure is to continue to exclude the many different faiths and values that are held by employees of NH. By way of quickly examining why this structure is not equitable or inclusive, let’s look at a few of the holidays. Christmas is one example. At least 1 out of every 5 of NH employees do not celebrate this holiday because they are Muslim. This is only counting those that are Muslim. What about other faiths such as Orthodox Christians, who do celebrate Christmas but not until January 7th a week after the federally recognized holiday)? Still others may not celebrate Christmas because they have different values and beliefs, such as atheist or agnostic.
Our next example is Thanksgiving – the day children are taught celebrates the Pilgrims inviting Native Americans to celebrate the harvest with a feast because the Native Americans were so friendly, neighborly, and nice by teaching them how survive in the new land. This story of Thanksgiving is a repackaging of discrimination and genocide that the Native Americans actually encountered. It also glorifies colonialism and slavery. The story leaves out the kidnapping and enslavement of Tisquantum, otherwise known as Squanto as named by the Pilgrims. It doesn’t tell you that even with the help and teachings of Tisquantum the Pilgrims robbed graves, looted villages, stole stored food from the Native Americans and ate corn from abandoned corn fields to survive. The story leaves out the fact that for hundreds of years before the Pilgrims landed, the Wampanoag tribe encountered English and European explores who kidnapped, enslaved, and killed their people.
Thanksgiving Day is not a day of celebration for many Native Americans but a day of mourning and remembrance. It is a reminder of what their people have suffered and endured. Not all Native Americans view this as a day of mourning. Some choose to observe it as a celebration of the ancestors and all they gave.
Moving on to the 4th of July, Frederick Douglass beautifully addressed the fact that many Americans may not have cause to celebrate. In his speech “What is the 4th of July to a Slave?” he said:
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery;… There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”
Fredrick Douglas’s full speech captures how many Black people feel today. Independence Day is not a celebration of freedom for all. Physical freedom for African Americans did not come until June 19, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln. Even now, though Black people are no longer shackled with chains, they are still fighting for to the full actualization of promises made by the United States Constitution.
Each of the holidays we have examined have impact on marginalized people. Just looking at these three, we can begin to see that they are not inclusive and, in some cases, can be offensive.
The question is not if the current holiday structure is good or bad. The question NH is examining is who are we leaving out by not recognizing that we are a multi-cultural agency with people of many different faiths, beliefs, and values? As part of our journey to becoming a fully inclusive, anti-racist, multi-cultural organization, we are working on reevaluating our holiday structure.
By Rochelle Hazard, Director if Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access