Today is a day to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a great leader.
As I reflect upon the changes that have occurred over time, there are reasons to celebrate and reasons to lament. We have seen significant advances in race relations since the 60s and we now have the first African-American president. There also exists many more opportunities for non-white people in our country in the area of education, business and politics. I don't think too many of us would like to return to the era of "white" and "colored" bathrooms and water fountains, something I am old enough to remember.
Yet there remains much work to be done. Racism is alive and well. It is indeed mind-boggling that in 2010 there are people who continue to hate and fear others who are different than themselves. Of course here in America we are no different than many other places around the world--how many countries can we look at which exemplify peaceful collaboration among diverse groups, be it religious, ethnic, racial or tribal?
Why does this phenomenon persist? Why do we continue to devalue others? As a Leadership Consultant, I long for more leadership in this area. Not lip service, but true leadership espousing the value of diversity. I was appalled, and I assume many others are as well, at Pat Robertson's claim that Haiti brought on the earthquake through their "pact with the devil". During this incredibly sad occasion when we should be rising above politics to help our neighbors to the south, we hear a religious leader instead blame the people for their own devastation. Some may see Mr. Robertson as a fringe leader, but he has a tremendous following and influences thousands of people.
Yes, there has been much change, but much more is needed. We are living in highly polarized times where anger, blame, greed and divisiveness seems to reign. We need moral leaders who will embrace diversity. We need this in our workplaces, communities, educational institutions, the political realm, and our religious organizations.
And we need to speak out ourselves, because after all we are all leaders capable of influencing others.