Today we honor the life, achievements, and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister and civil rights leader who advocated for nonviolent resistance against racial segregation.
In actions both great and small, Dr. King pioneered several efforts to eliminate Jim Crow laws and other forms of systemic racism through the civil rights movement which ushered a new dawn for African Americans in the United States.
From being the founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957 to his “I Have a Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, to his influence in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Dr. King’s impact and leadership is one that inspires us today to be leaders that promote change in our various fields of influence. Here are a few lessons we can learn from the life and legacy of Dr. King.
Focus coupled with action is imperative for change
“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned a world where his children and grandchildren would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. With this focus and vision of equality in mind, Dr. King sacrificed personal comfort to lead transformational initiatives in the civil rights movement for the purpose of positive change.
If you want to go far, go together.
“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King knew the importance of getting others involved in his vision. As a leader, he surrounded himself with a dedicated group of foot soldiers, mentors, and advisors like Mahalia Jackson, Bayard Rustin, Wyatt Tee Walker, and Ralph Abernathy, who supported him with implementation strategies, assisted with speech writing and supported the execution of various initiatives. As a transformational leader, Dr. King built relationships with his team and his supporters to bring forth his vision that transformed the hearts and minds of his current generation and generations long after his death. Effective change requires collaborative efforts and Dr. King’s life embodied the importance of collective involvement and relationship building to enact positive change.
Clarity in communication is an essential ingredient for good leadership.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King was a master communicator and his ability to be inquisitive and an ongoing learner helped to shape his thought process and solidify his legacy. He understood that his vision and focus was only as good as his ability to articulate it. At the peak of his influence from 1960 to 1965, Dr. King utilized the television, a budding medium of social change at the time, to nationalize and broaden his fight for equality. His I Have a Dream speech and Letter from a Birmingham Jail were both pivotal moments in the civil rights movement, highlighting the important role that effective communication played in his leadership and vision.
“The time is always right to do what is right.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King exemplified great character and integrity throughout his fight for racial justice. When faced with adversity such as police brutality, imprisonment, and crippling opposition, he remained steadfast in his fight for justice, refusing to partake in violence against his opposers and oppressors. For his nonviolent resistance to racial prejudice in America, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 at the age of 35, making him the youngest person to ever receive the award at that time.
“Like any man, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King lost his life in his fight for racial equality and justice. Understanding the risk of the fight did not deter him but instead motivated him to work tirelessly to fulfill his dream where his 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. The struggle for racial, gender, and other forms of equality is not over, but as we continue down this path, we embrace the lessons Dr. King taught us through his life, achievements, and legacy.
The Women of Color Program is an outreach and development program designed to build and strengthen a dynamic ecosystem for women of color entrepreneurs. WBENC launched the Women of Color Program in 2017 to create an effective and successful business ecosystem designed to engage, advise and drive the growth of women of color women-owned businesses. Since then, hundreds of women entrepreneurs have attended in-person and virtual sessions at WBENC events, designed to address the challenges faced by many women of color business owners and provide resources and programming to address those challenges.