WSN recently reported that NYU Langone Health, NYU’s academic health center, did not include Juneteenth on its holiday calendar, instead allowing employees to choose one “Cultural Heritage Day” per year. Juneteenth, observed on June 19, commemorates the date that Union soldiers freed the last slaves in Galveston, Texas, two years after former President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation. 

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden signed a proclamation declaring Juneteenth to be a national holiday. Langone should do the right thing and add Juneteenth to their holiday calendar. But not only should they recognize the historical wrong of slavery, they should also look ahead to ending racial injustice in public health. 

Black women are three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women. Black people are 40% more likely than white people to contract asthma, which can cause severe complications during pregnancy. Historical injustices, such as exclusionary zoning and redlining, are largely responsible for these disparities. When Black and brown people are permitted to live only in geographic areas with concentrated contaminants and emissions, health disparities will arise. Acknowledging Juneteenth as a holiday will not solve any of these injustices. But it is necessary to acknowledge that healthcare should respond to the needs of Black people because of historical injustices, like slavery, segregation and environmental racism. 

Langone’s current stated policy is that employees can choose any date on the calendar to celebrate a “Cultural Heritage Day.” This is immoral. It pits different holidays against each other, forcing workers at Langone to compartmentalize their beliefs regarding racial justice and equity into a single day. Surely the end of chattel slavery in this country merits a full day of remembrance and celebration, not just an opt-in, box-checking “Cultural Heritage Day.”  

Langone has been a leader in promoting diversity and inclusion in the field of medicine. Even before the protesters took to the streets in pursuit of racial justice last summer, the institution has actively recruited people from underrepresented backgrounds, most notably through a partnership with Howard University. Langone has also been developing curricula for students on the topic of systemic racism in the field of healthcare. It’s for these reasons that Langone’s decision regarding Juneteenth is so puzzling. It’s inconsistent with their previous track record of seeking racial justice. 

Langone rightly acknowledges Independence Day as an observed holiday on their calendar. What the institution needs to understand is that Juneteenth is another independence day for Black Americans. It’s the date where the government, at long last, took a step to ensure that everyone, regardless of their skin color, was guaranteed the rights found in the Constitution’s preamble. It’s a holiday that is inherently imbued with hope, showing our country that no matter the wrongs we’ve done in the past, it’s never too late to work to fix them. NYU Langone should honor this and put Juneteenth on their holiday calendar.

Contact Kevin Kurian at [email protected]