A Wish for Freedom

By Clarissa Beyah, Chief Communications Officer

UP employees participating in a 2023 Juneteenth Parade in Omaha | MR

Members of Union Pacific’s Black Employee Network took part in the annual Juneteenth parade held in Omaha June 17.

As our country and companies commemorate Juneteenth and its relevance, some celebrate the day as a “new” holiday and a much-appreciated extra-long weekend. Others, perhaps less familiar with what the day designates, may do a quick online search to discover or recall exactly what it’s all about and why it’s celebrated. As a broader web of individuals come to know and understand Juneteenth, it may seem like only a celebration for descendants of African slaves who are now U.S. citizens. A “free” day off.

While this day commemorates the actualization of the abolition of slavery for many -- but not all -- U.S. slaves, ultimately it is a day that symbolizes freedom.

But freedom is not free. The word “freedom” weighs heavily on me.

Today, the words “freedom,” “Black history,” “U.S. history” and “unalienable rights” often spark conversations of consternation and conflict. Proverbial “hairs” are raised and split, and emotions run high divided by colors of red, blue, Black, White and Brown. Fears and cheers of “woke” evoke separation and conflict, legislation and resignation.

As a Black American woman, I am forever grateful for the sacrifices made so that I could be born free; so that I can choose how to work, where to work, how to live, keep and raise my children, teach and lead. I am grateful that I have the freedom to explore Freedom. I am grateful that several days exist to commemorate those significant sacrifices.

As a Corporate Communications leader, writing about freedom is complex. With all stakeholders top of mind, communicating without alienating means being completely aware that context and complexion matter.

The weight of the word “freedom” is heavy. And inevitably, stories emphasizing wins for one group of people or strides for one set of stakeholders are often interpreted as losses for others. Whether acknowledging women or indigenous people, employee benefits or share-price gains, celebrating wins and inclusion for one group often generates an influx of verbal and written comments reflecting the fears and sense of exclusion by other groups.

Therein lies my wish. My wish on this day commemorating freedom is an idealistic one, I know. But as a lover of words and a cherisher of free speech, I will wish it anyway.

My wish is for freedom to be freely communicated and celebrated for what it is, on its own. I wish to be able to acknowledge and write about wins and rights without displaced interpretations of unintended slights. I wish that anyone who has known the pain and solitude of exclusion and irrelevance can heal in the bright intentions and celebrations of inclusion.

My wish is that freedom for one group becomes a reminder and representation of freedom for all groups.

That’s my simple wish on this serious day. I invite everyone to join me in the beauty and complexity of this hope for us all.


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