Every year, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we aim to honor the legacy of this great American hero. But this year, we also hope to extend our focus, develop a deeper understanding of Dr. King’s dream, and redouble our own efforts to help make his dream a reality.
At SkyWater Search Partners, we recognize that we have a significant role and responsibility in promoting the ideals of equality and workplace diversity. One of the greatest lessons we carry with us is that, no matter where any individual or business stands today in terms of diversity understanding and progress, the truth is, building – and sustaining – a culture of inclusion is a journey. The path forward is almost never linear, but a series of steps that are continuously revisited, deepened, and improved on.
We want to share some of the steps that we have found most helpful. And we invite you to join us, today and every day, in celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by working together to make our workplaces and our communities more diverse, inclusive, and successful.
1. Learn the History
There’s a saying that the simple act of educating ourselves is an act of social justice. We keep learning how true that that is. No matter how much – or how little – you already know about Dr. King, his dream, or the injustices he fought, start anywhere and keep learning. Reciting and referencing some of Dr. King’s famous quotes is wonderful place to begin. But to appreciate the progress and fully grasp the remaining challenges, try deepening your understanding by reading a book about Dr. King, or watching a documentary, or visiting a museum dedicated to him or other Civil Rights heroes.
2. Share What You Learn
If you’re reading an essay or going to the museum, invite a coworker or a neighbor to join you. Shared discovery fosters shared purpose. As a business leader, consider sharing your own reading lists with your team or inviting historians or experts to speak at a company event.
3. Turn Learning Into Action
Unlike any other federal holiday in the United States, MLK Day has been a federally designated “Day of Service” since 1994. That’s an amazing and very fitting thing, given that Dr. King fought for the dignity and human rights of all people. One of the most powerful ways that each of us can celebrate this day is by doing something to help others, without any expectation of praise or reward. While we don’t suggest pressuring any of your employees to spend their paid day off doing anything they don’t want to do, we definitely suggest spreading the word about wonderful volunteer opportunities, whether they’re done on MLK Day or any other day of the year. Create a brief list of volunteer opportunities in your community where you and any of your employees could spend time helping others. There are countless ways that you and your team can become forces for good. Honor the dignity of others by organizing a clothing drive, or reading to children at a local homeless shelter, or making personalized valentines for residents of your local senior center. When we work together to help each other – including others we have never met – we become active supporters of Dr. King’s legacy.
4. Get Inspired to Be the Change...
Creating necessary changes isn’t always easy. But whenever you’re feeling discouraged or unsure, look to the words of one of the most gifted orators in American history. Seriously. Hop online and find one of Dr. King’s speeches. If possible, find a video take in the power and poetry of Dr. King, himself, speaking to you. He never gave up. And neither should you.
5. Challenge Yourself
Thinking about building more inclusive communities and diverse workplaces is important. Setting personal and organizational goals is a solid start. But real change also demands an honest recognition of what’s working and what’s getting in the way. And sometimes… the obstacle turns out to be within us. As a business leader, you may have racked up a lot of your success by doing things the way they were always done by your predecessors. But if your hiring, onboarding, training, or coaching processes keep producing cookie-cutter teams, maybe it’s time to dig a little deeper. The change you really want will only come with hard work and a willingness to examine – and replace – old mindsets.
Finally, we would like to share one of our favorite Dr. King quotes that reminds us of our own power to make a positive difference.
"Everybody can be great... because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."