As we celebrate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday and think about his legacy, it’s appropriate to recognize that we have just marked the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, which in many ways embodies Rev. King’s dream. That Supreme Court ruling that banned school segregation is the root of the diversity and inclusion movement.
Although we have seen progress, we sometimes don’t believe the positive impact of civil rights victories because of our personal experience. I impart to you on you this day that it is imperative to understand the past in order to change the present and to influence the future.
Let’s look at the diversity and inclusion journey. In the 60s, the Johnson Administration implemented the Plan of Progress to engage civil rights and drive integration. The largest group to benefit from this plan was the advancement of African Americans.
During the 70s and early 80s, affirmation action legislation was the driving force to provide access that was unattainable through normal protocols. This legislation allowed for equal opportunity for groups from multiple backgrounds. Titles IV, V and VI further supported the access to resources not readily available minority groups.
While slow, progress was still forging forward. The 80s and 90s was the decade of controversy, due to the minimization of affirmative action, and the rise of diversity. Diversity during this period focused on ethnic identity and gender. The largest group that advanced and benefited for the next four decades were, and still are, white women.
For the millennium and beyond, the shift has moved to Inclusion and culture. The internal driver that supports this shift is sustainability within organizations. Based on population shifts, Hispanics will be the largest group to benefit. But let’s not forget all other groups that came through civil rights and whom are also benefiting from cultural inclusion.
What we have seen in the past six decades from a multidimensional view is how civil rights evolved into diversity and inclusion. So are we there yet? Absolutely not.
We should be asking ourselves how do we continue to have influence and have impact? Has substantial progress been made? Are we continuing to fail forward? When threats are shattered, are new opportunities created? With that, then one day we will arrive together – just as Rev. Dr. Martin King Jr. envisioned.