MLK Day Requires Uncomfortable Conversations & Actions, Not Just Platitudes

Martin Luther King Jr. Day should be about more than just volunteering and platitudes, it needs to be a day of hard conversations about continued segregation and taking action to improve economic equality.

As a country, we cannot let MLK be whitewashed into a feel-good icon talking about kids playing together. Instead, he needs to be embraced as the radical leader he was, as someone who used controversial methods to fight for economic empowerment and racial equality.

In the Memphis-metro area, we need to make MLK Day, a day to have hard conversations and hold businesses, governments, educational institutions and nonprofits accountable for achieving King’s vision of racial and economic justice.

Fourteen years after moving here, I’m still blown away, angry and upset by the fact that so many restaurants, governments, businesses and nonprofits look like they were staffed in upstate Minnesota, not Memphis.

We need to create and publish scorecards for every organization that tracks their diversity and inclusion metrics regarding the hiring, pay and promotion of employees and vendors. After all, we cannot manage what we don’t measure. 

Second, we need organizations like the County government and chamber of commerce to provide services to help organizations develop and execute diversity and inclusion plans. While some people are outright racists, even more hire people in their existing network, which means people who look like themselves.

Reaching across racial and class boundaries isn’t easy, and so we need organizations to both nudge and assist. It’s not enough to say we don’t discriminate, integration requires intentional actions, overcoming incorrect stereotypes, and hard choices. 

So if we really want to honor King, let’s make MLK Day, a day for uncomfortable conversations and actions, not just volunteering and platitudes.

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