The March on Washington 1963; I was there
The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is being celebrated this week I’m so glad that I was there to take part in history.
My diversity journey began that day.
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.
I didn’t know that my life would change, that the March would lead me to be active in the civil rights movement and begin my diversity journey.
I remember so clearly what affected me the most. It was 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 inspired my work in diversity, and fueled and ignited my passion for 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.
In 1963, we were marching to end the exclusion of people from the voting booths, schools, jobs, and other rights because of the color of their skin. Today we talk about diversity management and creating inclusive work cultures. We strategize on how to leverage the diverse skills and experiences of all employees and recruit from an expanded diverse pool of candidates.
We’ve moved forward, but we’re not done. Bias still exists and if unchecked will negatively impact the whole organization and it’s ability to hire, promote, and retain the best people, as well as expand into new markets.
The civil rights era made a difference. It made a difference in where people live, where they go to school, the jobs they hold, and created opportunities for people to start their own businesses. We broadened our perspective to think in terms of human rights and include people from all cultures, religions, gender, sexual orientation, age, etc. Were it not for the civil rights era with the marches, sit-ins and demonstrations, there wouldn’t be the awareness today of the need to integrate diversity and inclusion into the overall business strategy.
It took more than new laws to create real change and will take more than the words diversity and inclusion in our mission statements to create inclusive work cultures.
It took a ground swell of people united for a common goal to eliminate segregation. As the diversity journey continues it will take executives, managers, employees and customers to create culture change. Therefore, we all 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 have to stand up, speak out and ensure that people don’t lose their voting rights that they get an education, and can enter and succeed in the workplace.
In addition, we each need to examine our daily lives, and determine whether our actions are helping us move closer to Martin Luther King’s dream. If not, let us each ask ourselves what more we can do.
Here are five actions you can take to further the dream in your organization
1. Review your diversity mission and vision statement. Identify business practices that contribute to your mission, change or eliminate those that don’t.
2. Take time to speak to people at all levels in your organization about the diversity and inclusion mission. Assess their knowledge and level of involvement, and Personal commitment. .
3. Get culture creation help. Solicit feedback from groups of people at each level about the kind of workplace culture that would help them do their best work.
4. Be conscious of your workforce demographics. You’re your workforce represent your market and outside community. Develop and implement a more inclusive strategy for recruitment and community partnerships.
5. Create opportunities for dialogue amongst employees from different work, cultural, and religious backgrounds to share ideas, best practices and resources. The more people know each other, the more comfortable they become, and the easier it is for people to ask each for and offer help. .