It probably goes without saying that MLK, Jr. Day is HUGE in the black community. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is pretty much the second coming of Christ to our population. From the Montgomery Boycott and March on Washington, to his “I Have A Dream” speech and his infamous assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, MLK, Jr. made non- violent protests famous and inspired today’s Black Lives Matter campaign. The strides he took to obtain equality for all people, and especially brown people, during the civil rights movement arguably laid the foundation for most of the post-1960s diversity and inclusion movements and accomplishments and earned him the rightful title of “civil rights icon.”* It was only right that he received a federal holiday.
Although Congress introduced legislation for a national holiday commemorating King’s legacy days after his assassination, the holiday did not pass the House and Senate until close to two decades later. Even then, it took approximately six million signatures and Stevie Wonder writing “Happy Birthday” to make the case for the holiday. Still, not every company or corporation honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s holiday. In fact, we can both account for days that our lawyer friends were called in to work, to take depositions and work on deals on MLK day, despite the fact that federal and state courts were closed.
Here are the top five reasons corporate offices should all celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day:
- It’s good for race relations.
This is pretty much self-explanatory. See the intro above, but also pick up any history book and read about the civil rights movement. We promise you will learn all about MLK’s historical impact. Out of respect for the man who largely contributed to the events that allowed black and brown people to work, in any capacity, at your company, it’s good practice to honor this long fought for holiday.
- Because MLK breakfasts are possibly one of the most-attended, historical, inspiring and community celebrity-studded events in the black community.
If you aren’t familiar with black community events, allow us to introduce you to the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day breakfast. Despite waking up at the crack of dawn and dressing to the nines, the black community looks forward to these breakfasts every year. Planning for the breakfasts starts approximately six months before the breakfasts. Churches, local NAACP chapters, community organizations and community heroes put together committees who engage facilities and rental spaces, caterers, local musical talent and important clergymen and minority public figures to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy. If you’re lucky enough to live in Atlanta, Selma, Memphis or Chicago, you may spot a more seasoned member of the community who worked with Dr. King, marched with him or has detailed personal accounts of where they were during his speeches, marches or assassination. Most importantly, every January, MLK breakfasts across the country award scholarships to deserving high school and college students, recognize talented youth showing promise in school, sports or arts programs and award individuals who have a displayed commitment to bettering their communities. Your diverse employees cannot attend MLK breakfasts if they are at work.
- It sets an example for the next generation.
Aside from using it as an occasional make-up day, almost every school system recognizes MLK day as a holiday and allows children a break from their rigorous course schedule. It seems backwards to teach our children that while they are young Martin Luther King, Jr. day is important and should be celebrated, but allow them to grow up and insinuate that it is just another regular day. This only perpetuates the racial divide that tells brown people that their people are less than.
- It’s good for employee morale.
People want to feel appreciated at work. That’s why it’s important to recognize Christian holidays, as well as Jewish ones, work anniversaries, firm founding anniversaries, companies’ incorporation dates, President’s day and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Each holiday means something different to a given population. There may be glaring or subtle differences in employees’ backgrounds; regardless of the variance between backgrounds, every employee wants to feel like their company cares about the things that influence(d) who they are as a person. Plus, companies often boast about their commitment to diversity. This is one basic recognition that shows a company actually cares about its minority employees. Studies show that employees who do not feel appreciated start to suffer from low morale and are less productive. That affects the company’s bottom line. Displaying a commitment to diversity, and celebrating it, will be good for employee morale. And good morale yields an appreciated and more productive employee.
- People should be able to take one day each year and commit it to serving other people.
MLK Day is largely recognized as a day of service. There are so many accolades used to separate people by class, socioeconomic status and peer groups. Service is one thing that unifies us all. We understand not every company will rush out and require employees to take MLK day off in furtherance of the federal holiday. However, consider at least a service project, observing holiday hours or having a special lunch or program outside of just the corporate affinity group. Dr. King said it best:
“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
*This post does not discredit or ignore the accomplishments of other civil rights movements, icons or contributors, but given the recent MLK celebration focuses on his greatness.