Now is the time: honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy by naming and changing racism

Photo of Martin Luther King Jr. National Monument sculpture.

Our nation’s fight for racial justice lives on nearly 60 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. His urgent call for change in 1963 poignantly applies to our urgent call for change today.

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.” 

from Martin luther king jr.’S “I have a dream” speech

As communicators and trusted advisers, we have a unique responsibility to advocate for racial justice inside our organizations and those of our clients, and also communicate through a racial justice lens. Our success relies on a personal understanding of racism and how it’s perpetuated — we must be able to name it in order to change it.

Today — on the day observing King’s birthday — I challenge you to honor his legacy by reading Tema Okun’s list of white supremacy culture characteristics. Read it now. As you do, write down the characteristics you hold, and the characteristics you see upheld, demonstrated and celebrated in your workplace. Then ask yourself: how can I change my personal behavior now to create a racially just workplace and communicate in a racially just way?

Now is also the time to learn about Oregon’s racist history. My fellow PRSA Oregon board member Taraneh Fultz shared two articles in a recent blog post:

On Tuesday, January 26, three faculty members from Portland State University’s Black Studies program are holding a conversation — “Time Traveling Through Portland’s Black Life” — as part of the University’s “Living the Legacy” series. The event is free and open to the public.

We must understand where we came from and where we are now to create a more just and equitable future.

I’m encouraged by PRSA’s growing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. The Oregon chapter is creating more space than ever before for discussion, learning, community-building and advancement surrounding DEI, from vision setting and dedicated committee work, to hosting events and offering tools you can use to foster change. Stay tuned for more of what’s to come in 2021.

Written by Erin Merz, M.A., APR. Erin serves as Bend’s regional director on the 2021 PRSA Oregon Board of Directors. She’s director of marketing and communications for The School of Business at Portland State University.

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