Q&A with Ella Washington: Honoring Juneteenth and Recognizing the Journey to Equity and Inclusion

Ella Washington

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Juneteenth is a day of celebration to commemorate emancipation and the end of slavery in the United States. As we honor this day and celebrate independence, we also recognize the struggle — historically and in our current moment — to achieve true freedom and justice for all.

Ella Washington, professor of the practice, Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business

On this annual holiday, Ella Washington, professor of the practice, shares her personal reflection of Juneteenth, her path to studying diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace, and several ways the Georgetown community can advance equity and inclusion in their daily lives.

To read Washington’s Q&A and learn more about Georgetown University’s celebration of Juneteenth, visit georgetown.edu/juneteenth.

How has your recognition and celebration of Juneteenth shifted over time?

Growing up in Durham, North Carolina, I did not see many celebrations around Juneteenth. However, I was familiar with Juneteenth because my mother made it a priority for me to be informed on Black history. At Spelman College, I came across Black peers who had varying levels of familiarity with the holiday. I have come to increasingly look forward to Juneteenth. Whether by attending a Juneteenth celebration or supporting a Black-owned business, I look for opportunities to define what the holiday represents to me and Black people across the U.S. I also consider joy to be the greatest form of resistance, especially as a Black woman. Finding opportunities of joy and jubilance with my family and friends is a way to live into the dream of my ancestors and into the spirit of honoring Juneteenth.

What do you think is most important to know about Juneteenth, its celebrations, and its significance in American history?

The significance of Juneteenth is not only the important acknowledgment of freedom for an oppressed group of people but the reconciliation of how that dream of freedom was delayed when so many others had it. As a nation, we continue to struggle to reconcile our history and its truths because we are afraid it will unveil a reality we want to shy away from. But the fact is, there continue to be experiences of injustice and inequity that stem from years of disenfranchisment and discrimination. Facing our history head on and embracing the good with the bad is the best way to strengthen our future as a nation and as a people.

How did you become interested in studying DEI in the workplace, and how companies can make real progress on their DEI journey?

With my background in psychology, my experience as a Black woman growing up in the South and the enriching and enlightening contributions of my historically Black college, Spelman College, to my cultural and historical understanding, it felt like a natural progression toward DEI work. During my Ph.D. coursework, I focused on gender and race in the workplace, and in this academic experience, I gained an appreciation for the need to be action-oriented and results-driven. This pushed my interest in having an industry-focused practice that is rooted in research and theory.

What are concrete ways Georgetown community members can create more inclusive spaces in their daily lives?

In the day to day, there are many ways that we can be more inclusive of the people around us. Simple things like avoiding making assumptions about someone, using inclusive language when possible, and asking for clarification can go a long way in creating an inclusive environment. Additionally, creating authentic opportunities to connect with individuals and welcome discomfort encourages learning and connection. And essentially, inclusion is all about building those authentic connections in order to have more honest community relationships.

Learn more about Washington’s upcoming book, The Necessary Journey: Making Real Progress on Equity and Inclusion, to be released on November 8, 2022.

This Q&A was originally featured on georgetown.edu/juneteenth.