I consider myself a lifelong student of the Civil Rights Movement.
I have always been interested in the courageous Civil Rights leaders whose passion, commitment and sacrifice laid the foundation for the work in diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) and social justice that many of us are still trying to advance today.
Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the guiding lights who motivates me and influences how I think about DEI.
Dr. King was deeply committed to addressing structural inequities in the areas of employment, housing, education, economics and more. A passionate “truth teller,” he talked and wrote about the “evils” of racism and poverty – and worked to build coalitions that crossed sectors, levels and groups of people. He was determined to address the historical injustices that created unequal access and opportunities for Black people and other People of Color. He fought for changes in policies (not just patchwork programs) and was committed to the eradication of institutionalized barriers.
Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.
Since joining the Walton Family Foundation as Equity and Inclusion Project Director, I have kept an art piece with this quote from Dr. King’s book, “Strength to Love,” by my desk:
“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”
The foundation is committed to embedding DEI in our philanthropy. This means we engage in self-reflection, dialogue and ongoing examination of the how and why of our grantmaking and partnerships. We are resolved to increase opportunities and access for people who historically have been excluded or marginalized.
In 2015, I had a unique opportunity that allowed me to learn even more about Dr. King and the historic march from Selma to Montgomery.
The National Park Service selected 300 people to retrace that journey – the same number of people allowed to march in 1965. Along with 299 other people, I walked the 52 miles along the historic Route 80 from Selma to Montgomery.
We heard from some of Dr. King’s friends and colleagues and sang some of the same powerful and motivating songs that the courageous marchers sang 50 years earlier. They felt just as relevant, just as necessary and just as motivating.
As we stopped in each “campsite” used by the marchers along the way, we heard stories about the lesser-known parts of the march. One family told us they cooked spaghetti for Dr. King and the marchers, who cleaned up in the creeks near their farmhouse. At another campsite, the City of St. Jude, Harry Belafonte, as well as Peter, Paul and Mary and others entertained the marchers. I will never forget the power of that experience and how it helped deepen my connection with Dr. King.
At the foundation, my hope is that Dr. King’s legacy, commitment to coalition-building and fierce determination to make things better will motivate our DEI work going forward.
As our nation celebrates Dr. King’s life and legacy – and as we continue to work on the issues he highlighted and advocated for – I am reminded of a line often spoken as we completed our anniversary walk from Selma to Montgomery: “The March Continues …”