On January 14 I packed my bags and headed to the airport, excited to take a quick flight to Washington D.C. to see my friend Tamara Rasberry and conduct interviews I had set up for Workhuman Radio’s Black History Month series. That day I was given a private tour of the Rosa Parks exhibit at the Library of Congress from researcher Susan Reyburn.
On January 15 I visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) with Tamara, talked about its history with Museum Specialist Deborah Tulani Salahu-Din, and headed over to the Martin Luther King Jr. Monument and Lincoln Memorial. I’m a history nerd and I was excited to learn powerful stories about the struggle for civil rights.
As a white male in my late thirties, it’s easy to think I couldn’t possibly identify with any diversity struggle. But that’s not necessarily true. While I have inherent privilege and opportunity, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t experienced the feeling of not belonging. Feeling left out, left behind, and left alone is a miserable existence.
I tried to approach these interviews through that lens. When Tamara and I visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Monument, we walked down the ramp to the statue of Dr. King. Fourteen of his quotes seemed to rise up in the granite, but one in particular resonated with me:
"Make a career out of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”
(April 18, 1959)
In front of that quote, I asked Tamara if there is hope for the future. She paused, then said:
“It's slow change, but we have to have hope. We have to teach children all of the things we've had to go through, the people before us, the people who are going through it now, so when they are adults, they'll realize the importance of just being a good human being and not treating other people differently because they're different than you.”
Through my interviews, which you can hear all month long by subscribing to Workhuman Radio, there is a common theme – a desire to belong and be recognized. Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat, the civil rights movement, the building of the NMAAHC, and navigating the minority experience today are all rooted in this desire. We all want to be seen, to have our voice heard, and to be treated as equal human beings.
Our CHRO Steve Pemberton noted at our annual company kickoff last month that recognition is a bridge between diversity and inclusion. As research has shown us time and time again, recognition is a basic human need and through this recognition, we can find common values and celebrate differences to bring people together, instead of pushing them apart.
It’s up to us as HR professionals and stewards of our work cultures to lay the foundation for this bridge. Together, we can create spaces where people can bring their unique experiences together to create positive change.
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