As diversity and inclusion enthusiasts, we often look to the Diversity Heroes throughout history for guidance - those who paved the way with brave hearts and true ambition to create change in the world. Today specifically, we’re honoring Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most historically pivotal leaders in the Civil Rights Movement and a true catalyst for change. Dr. King’s work and mission has echoed loudly and provided a moral and ethical backbone so impactful initiatives could thrive today. And, that's how we do what we do.
As we reflect on Dr. King’s legacy, we thought we’d share some of his most memorable moments to keep you motivated as you create a diversity and inclusion legacy of your own.
A (brief) Story of MLK
Born January 15th, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr. grew up in Atlanta, Georgia but later married his wife, Coretta Scott in 1953 here in Alabama which is where his protests began. That’s actually pretty cool for us, because our headquarters is located in Birmingham, Alabama! We are literally surrounded by Dr. King’s legacy every time we stroll down the streets and avenues of “The Magic City.”
Beginning his pastoral career at Morehouse College at the age of 15, MLK Jr. went on to achieve a Bachelor’s degree from Morehouse at the age of 19 and followed that achievement with another Bachelor’s of Divinity in 1951. Finishing out his theology pursuits, Dr. King graduated with a doctorate in Systematic Theology from Boston University in 1955.
At 25 years old, King moved into his first official pastoral position at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
And, that’s where it all began.
A Fight For Change:
In the 1950s and 1960s, segregation ran rampant throughout the south and racial tensions were at their highest. Events like the passing of Jim Crow laws and segregated schools led Dr. King to join a group of influential men in 1957 to establish the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This group united diverse churches to organize civil rights reform and enhance the lives of marginalized groups.
Through peaceful protests and radical avocation, Dr. King created a shift in civil rights that would echo throughout history.
From organizing The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, to leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. never lost sight of his mission for equality.
It was in 1963 King bellowed a message of national and international resonance. At the end of the The March on Washington, Dr. King delivered a speech in front of a crowd of more than 250,000 people and uttered his most memorable phrase: “I Have A Dream.”
It was this speech that shook the bones of history and laid the foundation for true equality. His words posed a question to the country - what kind of country will we be? Attendees at the speech still remember his words fondly today and have carried his message throughout the rest of their lives.
Sadly, his message didn’t resonate with everyone leading Dr. King’s journey to a tragic end by assassination from James Earl Ray, a convicted criminal and felon. Ray, being the radical racist he was, didn’t agree with King’s message of love and equality. As many of us diversity advocates know, the message isn’t always positively received. However, we continue to spread our message with love in hopes of creating change.
That, we must never stop.
We have the ability to shift every negative moment we experience into a teachable one. In Dr. King’s own words: “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Without Martin Luther King Jr.’s advocacy and mission towards an equal world, we wouldn’t have many of the opportunities we do today. If Dr. King was still alive today, we like to think his mission would have spread to shelter the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, veterans and anyone else on the diversity spectrum - giving hope no matter our identities or walk of life, we are all created equal.
Dr. King’s Most Memorable Phrases
What a dream it would have been to live in the time of Dr. King, to hear his voice ringing over speakers and radios and sharing the vision of a world where we are all seen and treated with honor and love. As you marinate on that idea, here’s a list of King’s most memorable and inspiring words. Imagine the ways we can carry his legacy further and into our modern day goals of more inclusion and diversity .
“I have a dream that one day right there in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed -- we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”
“When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Hats Off to the King
Martin Luther King Jr.’s name will forever ring throughout history. His words and actions have transcended above many others and years after his death still create change and inspire a better world for tomorrow. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was and is a Diversity Hero through-and-through. As you celebrate this day, whether at work, at home, with family or friends, honor Dr. King's legacy and share his vision for a better world today and always.
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.