Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the most recognized and celebrated civil rights leaders. Yet, despite King’s trailblazing work, many will choose to honor him with a romanticized version of the leader — doing a disservice to his legacy and to our world, which is still in need of much change.
It’s important to acknowledge that peaceful does not mean passive. His push for civil rights and equality made many people uncomfortable. Because of his willingness to speak up against injustice and inequality, he was on the receiving end of hateful rhetoric, unjust arrests, threats, and violence. To be a truly transformational leader, like King, you must be willing to stand up for what’s right — even if it challenges the status quo. Especially if it challenges the status quo.
Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we often elevate conversations about race, social justice, and allyship but we also have to take action. “Become a dedicated fighter for civil rights. Make it a central part of your life,” King said during a 1959 speech. “It will enrich your spirit as nothing else possibly can … Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”
Here are some actionable ways companies can honor Dr. King’s legacy as a transformational leader, and “make a career of humanity”:
King used his voice to speak up for people in Chicago, in an effort to address housing, education, and employment discrimination. He spoke up for sanitation workers in Memphis, and he made his way to Birmingham to address its segregation. “I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” wrote King.
To “speak up” doesn’t necessarily mean leaders must command an audience. However, when you hold a position of power or leadership, your voice has the ability to bring awareness to an issue and make meaningful change. OneUnited is a 50-year-old Black-owned bank using its platform and resources to bring awareness to a specific issue: the racial wealth gap. The bank has been using its platform to amplify issues of social injustice, shine a light on the systemic inequalities that have existed in the financial world for years, and have unapologetic conversations about Black wealth.
Take bold action, now
In King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” considered to be the most important document of the civil rights movement, he wrote: “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see … that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” To be a transformational leader is to push for change the moment the need for change presents itself.
While we may not have all the answers, we can take action along this path toward racial equality for all. We all have the opportunity to listen, speak up, and act. Whether that’s through driving inclusive business practices, investing resources, empowering minority-led organizations, or advocating for policies for racial equality — using our company’s platforms or our own personal one. Allyship is most impactful when action is taken.
Build community and a culture of inclusion
Building community was, and still is, an essential part of the movement for equality. When people understand that we are all connected and become invested in the well-being of one another, real progress can take place — King understood, and spoke of, the power that building community can have. “I do not think of political power as an end. Neither do I think of economic power as an end. They are ingredients in the objective that we seek in life. And I think that end of that objective is a truly brotherly society, the creation of the beloved community.”
In order to build an inclusive community, leaders should work to create a culture that recognizes and celebrates what makes us all unique. One way to do this is by empowering and amplifying employees from underrepresented communities, by supporting employee resource groups (ERGs), or as nCino refers to them, Affinity Groups. “An inclusive culture and community is integral to our continued success at nCino, and our Affinity Groups offer employees the opportunity to connect with others who have shared backgrounds and experiences,” said Zedrick Applin, head of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Community Involvement at nCino. “These groups provide employees with a space to share resources and talk about issues that aren’t always discussed in corporate settings, such as 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests and the rise of violence against Asian-Americans. These issues affect us even during working hours, and our Affinity Groups are one way we can promote a diverse and inclusive workforce that recognizes this fact and encourages our employees to bring their full selves to work.”
Lead by example
King produced some of the most-quoted sound bites and written excerpts in history — he was incredibly vocal with regards to the need for equality. King led by example every time he put himself in harm’s way by marching, protesting, and using his access to political leaders to champion civil rights. To be a truly transformational leader, you have to lead by example.
After two of their children were diagnosed with Down Syndrome, Bitty & Beau’s Coffee Co-Founders and Owners Amy and Ben Wright, began learning more about the obstacles their children will face when they enter the business world. The Wright’s have prioritized inclusivity, hiring employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities, learning each person’s strengths, and meeting them where they are.
In doing the work to advance racial equality and systemic change, it’s also important to acknowledge that it’s ongoing. So, along the way, we are listening to our employees from underrepresented groups and continuously looking for opportunities to further drive change and build an inclusive workplace. We will continue honoring Dr. King’s legacy by recognizing that there is still much work to be done, but that we have the power to get us closer to fulfilling his dream.
Learn more about Salesforce’s Racial Equality and Justice Taskforce.