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The Atlanta Hawks Have Made Juneteenth An Official Company Holiday

The NBA Players’ Association is currently having lengthy discussions internally about the league’s proposed restart in the Orlando bubble and whether it is the right move for the players to go amid a pandemic and nationwide protests of police brutality and systemic racism against the Black community.

Kyrie Irving has been a prominent voice in questioning whether players returning would be wise, noting that playing basketball could serve as a distraction from the Black Lives Matter movement that has garnered unprecedented support in the last month. Others have voiced similar sentiments, and on top of concern of whether playing basketball would detract from the fight for racial justice, there’s the looming concern over the safety of players and the long-term effects of the coronavirus.

The activism of players around the league is having an effect and its for that reason why there are some skeptical of whether they can continue being impactful once games begin again and discussion shifts to the on-court product. An example of that impact was noticeable on Sunday when the Atlanta Hawks became the first NBA team to publicly announce that they would be making Juneteenth (June 19) an official company holiday to celebrate the official ending of slavery in the United States.

“I am proud of the decision our organization has made to recognize Juneteenth as a company holiday this year and going forward,” said Camye Mackey, Chief People, Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the Atlanta Hawks & State Farm Arena. “This is one of many steps we’ll take to support the positive change we need to see in society.”

Making the official abolishment of slavery a national holiday has become a more prominent topic in recent weeks, and some companies like Nike, Twitter, and now the Hawks have taken it upon themselves to add that date to their internal holiday calendar. June 19, 1965 was the date Union soldiers made it to Galveston, Texas to deliver news that the Civil War had ended and the slaves were now free — two and a half years after Lincoln first read the Emancipation Proclamation.

It is a significant date in U.S. history and one that, for a large part of the population, has gone unnoticed for most of our lives. That something this big is not widely known or celebrated offers yet another example of how little actual Black history gets taught in the American education system, and illustrative of why this movement is so important right now — and why players are fearful of diluting it in any way. It’s good to see the Hawks taking this step and hopefully the league will follow suit.

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