PACS news / June 19, 2021

Juneteenth: A Debt of Gratitude

Juneteenth, the day commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, has always been a day of immense historical and cultural significance. Its recent designation as a federal holiday is a testament to progress and simultaneously a reminder of our nation’s painful history.  We owe a debt of gratitude and a moment of recognition to the important work of civil society that has made this federal holiday possible. 
It is helpful to begin by defining the term “civil society,” which is not widely understood. Civil society is the “third sector”’ of society, distinct from government and business, and includes the family and the private sphere as well as non-governmental organizations and institutions.[1] Civil society organizations play multiple roles. They are an important source of information for citizens and others. They monitor government policies and actions and hold government accountable. They engage in advocacy and offer alternative policies for government, the private sector, and other institutions. They deliver services, especially to the poor and underserved. They defend citizen rights and work to change and uphold social norms and behaviors.[2] 

We at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society want to acknowledge and applaud the courage and resilience of individuals and communities who organized, advocated, and fought for change.  Change that can be frustratingly incremental or sometimes importantly disruptive, as we have seen through the conversations and consciousness-raising work of the last year.  Yet we know this work has not just been over the past year, but over the past hundreds of years, and that while this federal holiday is not a solution, it is still an important symbol of progress towards a more accurate perspective of our past.  
We wish you and your community a wonderful Juneteenth, full of celebrations, many messages of freedom, and illustrations of the power of civil society to make change.