Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. Both his father and grandfather before him were pastors of the renowned Ebenezer Baptist Church, a church known for civil rights activism currently shepherded by a very familiar name, Senior Pastor Rafael Warnock. Preaching was in Dr. King’s blood and so was standing up and speaking out about the inequities that Black communities faced. To honor his legacy we must also stand up and speak out against inequities wherever we find them, whether in the community or in the workplace. Dr. King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Equality matters.
Dr. King also famously said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?” And, it is this quote that I believe epitomizes Dr. King’s legacy and also speaks to who we are as public servants. That quote tells me that Dr. King would be happy that the day we dedicate to his memory has been given the tag line “A day on, not a day off” to denote that it should be a day of service. While Dr. King never held public office nor was he a public servant as we are, we know he dedicated his life for the public good.
For all the good he did, we know he is more than deserving. But, I have often wondered how he would feel about having a day in his honor, even all of the streets and schools being named after him. While we can guess that he would be flattered, I believe he would be pleased only if these honorariums lead to lasting change for racial equality. And, I hope we will keep that purpose in mind as we honor him – the need for lasting change towards racial equality in all aspects of life. Because if a pandemic alone wasn’t bad enough, it has also served to highlight continuing inequities in heath, economics, housing and indeed policing. It shows that we still have work to do to bring his dream to fruition.
As we reflect on his legacy this week and listen to recordings of his speeches, we will all be reminded of Dr. King’s dream, “a dream rooted in the American dream.”
Speaking about inequality in allegories, we will be reminded that he dreamed of that day when “every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places shall be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight.” Like the kid in the back seat on a road trip asking “Are we there yet?” we know that we are not. But, like Dr. King, we must be collectively committed to equality and we must have faith that we will be able “to transform the jangling discords of our nation” which we indeed recently saw at our nation’s Capitol, into a “beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” May God bless you all in your dedication to public service and your commitment to equality.
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Shirley A. Jones, Esq. is a Senior Executive Service (SES) member in the federal government and a certified leadership and diversity and inclusion trainer. Considering herself an employee advocate and a career development trainer, she was recently elected National President of Blacks In Government (BIG). Ms. Jones has had the opportunity to testify before Congress on the lack of diversity in the SES and frequently speaks at events in the Washington, D.C., area. She often addresses a variety of topics related to leadership and empowerment. Ms. Jones has also written Op-Ed pieces for the historic AFRO newspaper, HBCU Connect, and other publications.