I Was There – March on Washington 1963
My First Diversity Step
This week is the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. I’m so glad that I was there and part of history. That’s where my diversity journey really began.
I wish I could say that it was because I saw Martin Luther King, and heard his “I Have a Dream Speech,” but the truth is I was too young, and didn’t understand politics. However, I wasn’t too young to understand how wrong discrimination was.
I went on the March because many of my friends and their parents were going. I went on the March because I was angry that some of my friends wouldn’t have been allowed in the same restaurants, schools and other places if we lived in the south, and I went because at the time I wanted to see Washington DC.
However, I wasn’t too young to understand that discrimination was wrong, and I was angry that some of my friends who were Black wouldn’t have been allowed in the same restaurants, schools and other places if we lived in the south.
I didn’t know that my life would change, that the March would lead me to be active in the civil rights movement and that my diversity journey had begun.
What impacted me and what I remember so clearly were the thousands of people lined up on both sides of the street for what looked like miles, waving and welcoming us as our bus and all the other buses entered Washington DC.
I will always remember the warmth and chill that went through my whole being as I looked out the window. It felt like Washington DC was pulsing with electricity, optimism and a sense of unity.
It was a sea of people of all ages, colors, religions, and backgrounds that I’d never experienced before.
That feeling that I was in the midst of change, even though I didn’t know what it was, stayed with me. I didn’t stop. I spoke out in class about civil rights. I read, I learned and I participated.
That march and the subsequent ones through the years inspired my work in diversity, and also caused me to become passionate about inclusion, because when people feel included in something greater than themselves, and when one person can help another person or group of people be successful, we’ll be creating better communities, workplaces, and a better world for all of us.
Today in the diversity field, we laugh and say we don’t want to sit around and sing Kumbaya that’s where it started. And at the time in history, White people and Black people, and other people of color standing together, singing and marching was revolutionary. Singing Kumbuya and We Shall Overcome together got people put in jail, beaten and even killed.
Civil rights laws, that included the right to vote, end of segregation in schools, lunch counters, buses and business were enacted because of the boycotts, demonstrations and other actions.
However, it took more than just the laws to create real change, because even with laws people were denied entrance to schools, housing and good jobs.
Ultimately it took the ground swell of people coming together and changing the culture of segregation in the US, so that while discrimination, racism, sexism, homophobia etc. still exists on many levels, they’re not considered the norm.
The diversity and inclusion journey continues, and we all have a responsibility to help create inclusive cultures where everyone can do their best work. As the diversity and inclusion journey continues in the workplace, we have a responsibility to champion diversity and inclusion wherever we are.
Like millions of people who stood up for civil rights and ended legalized segregation, we need to continue to stand up, speak out and ensure that people don’t lose their right to vote, get an education and have an opportunity to fully participate in making this great country even greater.
Finally, we each need to examine our daily lives, and determine whether our actions are helping us move closer to Martin Luther King’s dream, and if not, let’s ask ourselves what more we can do.