Juneteenth: Celebrating the Best Decision America Ever Made

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Kevin Cohee, Chairman & CEO, OneUnited Bank, the nation’s largest Black-owned bank.

Many Americans are confused about the significance of our country’s 11th national holiday, Juneteenth, perceiving it to be a holiday only for Black Americans. Juneteenth, which was made a federal holiday in 2021, actually celebrates the best decision America ever made, which was to free enslaved people on American soil. America, as we know it, would simply not exist without that decision. 


The decision to end slavery ultimately had the profound impact of making America the strongest country in the world, socially and economically. From a social perspective, participating in an institution such as slavery, which is immoral, coldblooded, and brutal, destroys the humanity of both those who enslave and the enslaved. By shedding ourselves of this monstrosity, America paved the way for its core values to guide us to become the greatest country in the world. Our core values that all (people) are created equal, with the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, have become more of a reality. This decision provided the credibility for America to become a role model for democracy for the rest of the world. 


From an economic perspective, the decision to move away from an economic model that had slavery as its backbone was a brilliant decision. The economic dividends continue to reverberate through our economy to this day and into the future. Research suggests that the emancipation of enslaved people had a significant positive impact on the long-term economic growth of the United States. It is estimated that emancipation generated economic gains equivalent to up to 35% of the US gross domestic product (GDP), making it one of the most important economic events in American history.


While moving from slavery to Jim Crow muted our economic and moral development as a country, we continue to overcome the vestiges of these impediments. We have reached a critical inflection point; If we can overcome the crippling economic disadvantages of the lack of financial literacy throughout our society, we will realize the full economic benefits of our country’s brilliant decision. 


Juneteenth also symbolizes the power of information in achieving true freedom. Juneteenth resulted from the lack of information about emancipation in Texas, underscoring the importance of information as a building block for economic prosperity. Today, technology, in particular artificial intelligence, can empower us to overcome a lack of information (financial illiteracy), thereby unlocking the full economic potential of emancipation and ensuring a more equitable future for all. Our institutions, banks, for example, can utilize artificial intelligence and data aggregation technology to provide personalized insights, enabling people to make better financial decisions and create generational wealth.


To be clear, Juneteenth’s history began as a Black American celebration when freedom finally came to Texas on June 19, 1865. For the first time, more than 250,000 enslaved Black Americans learned from the Union Army that arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, that they were free. The Emancipation Proclamation had been signed two years earlier, on January 1, 1863. 


Today, we understand the significance of emancipation, not only for Black Americans but for all Americans. Therefore, our country has declared and celebrates Juneteenth as a national holiday. Corporations, government institutions, individuals, and community leaders alike should promote massive Juneteenth celebrations, bringing us together as one people with shared dreams and hopes for a better America and a better world.


Kevin Cohee, Chairman & CEO, OneUnited Bank, the nation’s largest Black-owned bank.



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