As we celebrate a great visionary and civil rights leader of our country, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I want to share some of my personal stories that wouldn’t be possible without him. Dr. King made many speeches and sermons. I can relate to his message delivery because I was born into a family of pastors and preachers, as he was. I have watched many of Dr. Kings speeches and I see it through the eyes of a person that is carrying a burden of many people and not just himself. I see it through the eyes of a visionary that was not only trying to find outcomes in his day, but more importantly have an impact on generations.
Recently, I listened to his “I Have A Dream” speech. I really focused on the message of then and also his dream of equality for today. As I watched the video, I also noticed some things that are relevant to my life today. Even though he was fighting for civil rights for black people, he also attracted all people to the fight. As I looked over the crowd, I saw all races and religions of people. Dr. King said in that speech, “The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.” As a leader on this journey called diversity and inclusion, I can’t help but recognize inclusion in that statement. Our successes are tied to each other. Together we can solve the issue. As I thought more about the speech, I thought about the progress that’s happened since then.
I want to tell you about my neighborhood growing up. I grew up in the small town of Victoria, Texas. My parents and sister moved there in 1971 or so, before I was born. They chose to live in a quiet neighborhood in town with big lots and huge trees. We lived in the corner house. As a child, I really didn’t think about the neighborhood that much. It was just where I lived. Most of my life I hadn’t really thought about the significance of what that community taught me.
My neighbors were nice people. Across the street was Mr. and Mrs. McCall. The McCalls were successful business people in town and gave money instead of candy for Halloween. Next door were the Neumanns. They owned the local grocery store. Down the street was the Lacks Family, they owned the local furniture store, and around the corner was Mr. and Mrs. Jones. Mr. Jones worked at the Dupont chemical plant.
Each family played a significant role in my young life. The Neumans were always nice enough to allow me to shoot hoops in their driveway because our driveway was too steep to put up a hoop. They also had twin children who drove matching Pontiac Trans Ams! The Lacks were nice enough to keep my sister and I when my mom was working late or needed to leave too early to drop us off at school. Mr. McCall would invite me over on Saturdays to watch football (always Alabama). He would drink his Brandy and smoke his pipe and Mrs. McCall would bring me a soda. Until this day, I don’t know what possessed him to invite me, but I was glad to sit and watch. I still remember the one time I had to go to a holiday party with my mom. I was upset because the circus was on TV and I was going to miss it. Mr. McCall was there and saw that I was upset and didn’t want to be there. He invited me to sit with him and taught me this game I had never heard of. The game was called Bunko. After a while, I was having so much fun that I forgot all about the circus. And Mr. Jones, well, he was the neighborhood Marathoner and my personal bicycle mechanic shop. I had no tools at home so every time I needed to work on my bike I went to the Jones garage. If Mr. Jones wasn’t home, Mrs. Jones would open the garage and let me work.
I am sure that you’re asking yourself, what does this have to do with Dr. King and Martin Luther King Jr. Day? I grew in a predominately white neighborhood that at the courthouse was still registered as a “whites only” neighborhood. I moved there just 13 short years after this speech was delivered. I experienced inclusion in my neighborhood. As a black family, we were included and as a Jewish family, the Lacks were Included. I never thought about racism and my mom never hesitated to let me go out into the neighborhood to play. Within those few blocks, Dr. King’s dream was realized.
“I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
This is not to say that I didn’t struggle in my town with racism and mistreatment, but I want to show the possibility and strength of Inclusion. Our neighborhood was a place where I could challenge my own generalizations; a place where I learned to embrace people for who they are. At the time I didn’t realize that this experience would prepare me for my future career The reason I can relate to others, regardless of beliefs, race or lifestyle is because of my neighborhood experience.
As we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, January 21, I encourage you to watch the video version of his speech, and realize that the people in that video from all races and religions chose diversity, equity and inclusion, which has resulted in a better nation; not a perfect nation, but a much stronger one. The people who chose to march, sit, protest and write letters sacrificed their safety, ego, comfort and some their lives to allow me to walk into this building every day. As we enter 2019, I am asking you to choose like thousands of people did in the 1960s. Choose to lead with inclusion, choose to find the unity instead of difference, choose to serve one another for the greater good of us all. That was the dream. We all have a part to play to make this dream come alive for everyone.
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