Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Its Meaning in 2019

January 21, 2019 Steve Pemberton

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., born 90 years ago on Jan. 15, 1929. Dr. King was a beacon of hope during some of the darkest times our country has faced – hard times, where we questioned the very character of our nation.

Dr. King was a leader in the Civil Rights movement, a constant voice of humanity, healing, compassion, and nonviolence. He was also a man who paid the highest sacrifice for the freedoms and democracy we are so fortunate to enjoy today.

We are inspired not only by his speeches and sermons, but also his actions in service of others. Today is designated as a national day of service – “a day on, not a day off” – where families, friends, and neighbors come together to service their communities, bridge barriers, and create solutions to social problems. 

We’ve made a great deal of progress in the 51 years since King’s death, but the work of building more inclusive, caring communities and workplaces is never done. And this is not a time to declare victory. Even small gestures of civility and recognition – a heartfelt “thank you” to your colleague for helping finish a project or inviting a new co-worker out to lunch – can change the trajectory of someone’s day and even their life.

Most of us know Dr. King’s speech delivered in our nation’s capital in August of 1963. But what we might not know is that in the remarks Dr. King brought to the podium that day, there is no reference to the words “I have a dream.” Several speakers had gone over their allotted time, and so King, in an effort to shorten his remarks, intended to exclude “I have a dream.”

But in the background was a friend of his, Mahalia Jackson, the wonderful opera singer, who had heard him talk about the dream at a conference in Detroit several months prior. And if you listen very closely to the tape, you can hear her in the background saying to him, “Martin, tell them about the dream,” and so he did.

Today I’m asking all of us to reflect on the ways we can model King’s dream of equality, dignity, decency, and civility. In 2019, King’s legacy is perhaps more relevant than ever, a guiding light as we work to bring more humanity to our businesses, our schools, our communities, and our country.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. day.

About the Author

Steve Pemberton

Steve Pemberton is the CHRO of Globoforce.

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