Friday, April 13, 2018
King, Kennedy and their message 50 years later
By Mark Ross, Cleveland Office Managing Partner and Deals Partner, PwC US
Every so often, you have a week that causes more than a normal amount of reflection. This past has been one such week, with the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, an event with the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, and a weekend spent at my college alma mater.
The question I’ve been pondering is “would Dr. King be proud of the progress we have made in terms of race relations in 50 years?” Despite watching all the coverage of the events of 50 years ago, I didn’t get my answer. Sure therehasbeenprogress,butsubstantialprogressthatwould make Dr. King proud – that is a more difficult question. Yes, we elected a black President, yet the country seems as divided as ever.
The day after the anniversary of Dr. King’s death, I had the opportunity to join an audience from Cleveland to hear RFK’s daughter speak the words of her father. Senator Kennedy had agreed to deliver a campaign speech at Cleveland’s historic City Club on April 5, 1968. With the death of Dr. King on April 4 in Memphis, Kennedy was responsible for calming the crowds in Indianapolis that night by delivering an impromptu speech still remembered today.Hecancelledallother campaign appearances up to the King funeral. However, civic leaders in Cleveland encouraged him not to cancel his City Club appearance on April 5 and he agreed. Rather than a campaign speech, he worked through the night to write the words he would deliver. The outcome was “On the Mindless Menace of Violence.” His daughter Kerry delivered these words in Cleveland last week, echoing her father’s words as if they were spoken yesterday:
“It’s not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one–no matter where he lives or what he does–can be certain whom next will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.”
She said the words of her Father were as important today as they were in 1968. And while I wish that weren’t the case, I think she is right. Kerry spoke about the importance of treating others with dignity and the importance of empathy. It felt like we were listening to Senator Kennedy himself and the messages felt uncomfortably similar today. She reminded us that “all of us as human beings share two things in common – we share suffering andwesharelove. If you search for both of those in other people, have empathy for their suffering and an open heart to love them and be receptive to their love, the larger ideas flow across all boundaries.” I continued my week still pondering the same question.
I took my reflection on the road, back to my alma mater in southern Ohio for the weekend. While the campus has changed quite a bit in the 30 years since I graduated – in many ways it felt unchanged. The lack of diversity was shockingly similar andtheheadlinestoryonthestudentnewspaper titled “students speak out against racism” was all too familiar. I was briefly encouraged when I saw a group of black students talking together until I realized they were convening in the diversity office, likely speaking about the recent protest on the topic. It would have been much more encouraging to see allies and supporters be part of this group’s conversation,butunfortunatelytheconversationwas only being had by the affected group.
My last night on campus ended ironically the same as so many nights 30 years ago – closing one of the bars singing along to Don McLean’s American Pie. Asongwrittenata time when, as McLean said in an interview, “things were heading in the wrong direction.” Why has that song survived the test of time and why does everyone still remember all the words? I would like to believe it is because it reminds us that we shouldn’t tolerate what McLean described as an inexorable decline in American culture. Said differently, we have to try harder, we have to do more. Ironically, Kerry Kennedy said effectively the same thing in her remarks in Cleveland earlier in the week – “show up and try” she asked of us.
So, would Dr. King be proud of the progress we have made? 50 years is a long time – but if you do nothingmorethancomparetheprogresswe have made in terms of telephone technology, for example (fromrotarylandlinestosophisticatedcell phones), to that of race relations, I think the answer is pretty clear that we haven’t.
We need to try harder, we have to do more. I am proud of my Firm’s efforts to help– our unconscious bias training and our leadership of CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion as examples– but they are only steps in a long journey. We need the support of other businesses, community organizations, and our colleges and universities to do more. CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion is the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace. The goal is to rally major companies and organizations together – via a unified pledge – to underscore a shared commitment to ensuring inclusion is core to business culture. More than 400 companies have signed the pledge. If your company is not one of them, engage with your leaders to pledge at www.ceoaction.com.
While Don Mclean’s American Pie lyrics were far from optimistic, Robert Kennedy provided some optimism in his April 5, 1968 remarks delivered in Cleveland. In memory of both Dr. King and Senator Kennedy, I close with the optimistic and hopeful words from that day in Cleveland 50 years ago.
“But we can perhaps remember–if only for a time–that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life, that they seek–as do we–nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment that they can. Surely this bond of common fate, surely this bond of common goals can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at the least, to look around at those of us, of our fellow man, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.”
Read the original article here.