On January 15th, 1929, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was born, known as M.L. growing up w/ his family in Atlanta, GA. In honor of his birthday, today is Martin Luther King Jr Day 2023, and also the National Day of Service 2023. Last year, we talked about equality. This year, after I came across this, we’ll be talking about leadership as it relates to Martin Luther King Jr Day and the National Day of Service.
Dr. King once said in a speech in Birmingham, in 1957, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” Doing for others is a part of leadership, at least it is in the way I understand the word to mean.
Seriously. Ask 10 different ppl what leadership means, and you’ll get 10 different answers. What counts as ‘good’ leadership is also subjective, beyond a general consensus of certain qualities.
Anyways, “what are you doing for others?” To me, doing for others is an occupational hazard of leadership, or should I say, it goes w/ the territory. From what I’ve learned about Dr. King over the years, and the rabbit holes I’ve gone down about Dr. King, I’d say he was (and is) everything a true leader should be.
For starters, he was an advocate for those of historically underrepresented and marginalized communities, as well as for those who were treated unfairly, like in the Scripto strike. The majority of the Scripto workforce was Black women, since the company headquarters was located in a neighborhood where many residents were part of the global majority. Due to the backlash Dr. King got when he used his platform to help the Scripto workers and advocate on their behalf, he stepped aside from workplace and labor union issues.
Until the Memphis sanitation strike, that is. The Memphis sanitation strike came about due to unfair and dangerous conditions the workers were subjected to. Memphis is one of the towns whose Powers that Be held unfair, racist, and prejudiced views toward those of other ethnicities, and issued laws that reflected this. Many of the sanitation employees were Black, and they got together to push back against the abuses their managers dished out at them. This included randomly firing team members, and paying them a wage so low that literally nobody could live on it even back in the 1960s. Many of these workers made sure that this wasn’t their only job, and in some instances, they applied for welfare and other community resources just to stay afloat. Dr. King, along w/ the NAACP and other civil rights groups amplified these workers’ voices, right before he was murdered.
Second, Dr. King led by example. There were some in that wave of the Civil Rights Movement who felt he was too much of this, not enough of that, or whatever. Those opinions came from those who favored separatism, and to me, separatism gets us nowhere new. Extremism is never ok, no matter who it’s coming from. Even if extremism comes from (very!) understandable feelings that come about from years of being mistreated, two wrongs don’t make a right. That’s not to say Dr. King didn’t have those kinds of feelings, b/c he did for awhile, according to this. He was angry, hurt, and devastated when he learned the magnitude of the hatred and prejudice going on towards those of shared identities at that time. Anyways, Dr. King’s parents taught him that loving others was the better option. His dad also took a stand against the injustices and the abuse dished out, and even led a march to protest against voting rights discrimination in the 1930s. His dad led by example, and so did he.
The memories of the injustices and the abuses he suffered under the Jim Crow-era south stayed w/ him, and he used that to fight back against the racist and prejudiced system.
Personally speaking, up until my seasonal job, I only ever had managers that ended up being shining examples of how not to do it and what not to do. I also saw similar examples as a customer and as a job seeker, and those places lost my business forever. They were a shining example of what not to do, and how what they’re doing never works in the long run. Someone either showed or told those former managers that bullying, abusing, and destroying others is what leadership is all about. Or, that’s what they decided leadership is on their own.
Whatevs. That’s not leadership. That’s what some abusive asshole thinks is leadership, or what they wish is leadership.
Last of all, Dr. King never gave up. Even though ppl who believed in ways totally opposite to what he believed in raised holy hell w/ him, and even though he got crap from those in the movement who favored more extremist ways, he stayed true to his beliefs and the roadmap to the cause, no matter what the naysayers said or did. He always read the room, so he could see when to speak up, and also what to say to those in the room.
The end goal of equality and a non and anti-racist society was the big picture, and that was what Dr. King fought to achieve. That was the game plan. He dreamed of a day where little Black boys and girls held hands w/ little white boys and girls as brothers and sisters, as he spelled it out in his most famous speech in the late 1960s.
While there are still those out there who subscribe to prejudiced and all-around heinous worldviews, I’d like to think they’re becoming more of an outlier than the norm. In some locales, let’s just say old habits die hard, and I wish that wasn’t the case. While a lot’s been accomplished thanks to Dr. King, there’s still a ton of work to be done. We see this w/ the Black Lives Matter movement, and we see this play out when we see news stories of law enforcement members engaging in abuse against those of shared identities and historically underrepresented and marginalized communities.
Anyone in law enforcement who thinks it’s ok to behave abusively towards others, regardless of racial identity or any other identity, has no business being in their line of work.
That said, today is MLK Day and the National Day of Service. However, we shouldn’t limit our celebration of Dr. King’s life, tragically cut short, to just a day. We need to take what Dr. King dreamed of, and live it each day. Otherwise, we’ll never accomplish any meaningful change beyond lip service and empty words.
I believe this is what Dr. King would have wanted, not extremism. But, that’s just me. Over to you, readers. What’re you gonna do to honor Dr. King? What are you doing for others? Will you make every day a National Day of Service? Got any plans for today? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts and takeaways, so drop it all like it’s hot and let’s talk.