Many of the causes that Martin Luther King Jr. fought for have come to fruition. While many may argue that the country has a long way to go before King’s ideal of equality for all is realized, blacks have access to every segment of society and have made significant accomplishments since the Civil Rights leader was assassinated nearly 43 years ago.
They enjoy freedoms that black people just 40 years ago could not experience, including living in neighborhoods of their choice, owning television networks and being elected to the highest office in the country.
The South Florida Times asked some South Florida professionals to reflect on the man, his efforts and how the strides that King made during his short life impacted their drive for success.
Those interviewed were Bill Diggs, 48, president/CEO, the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce; Yvette Harris, 43, CEO, Harris Public Relations; Julie Mansfield, 42, founder/president, Give Me Dignity Inc.; Suzan McDowell, “40ish,” CEO, Circle of One Marketing; Lorna Owens, host, And The Women
Gather television talk show; Kevin Sharpley, “30ish,” chairman/president, The Black Film and Media Group.
How have Dr. King’s efforts impacted your ability to have your career and lifestyle?
Diggs: I live in a diverse community and my daughter goes to a diverse school and I can travel freely without thinking (mostly) where I can and cannot go.
Harris: I believe Dr. King’s efforts have allowed me to work in a field that is open and receptive to all races. I am able to take part in all activities that I choose. Sometimes when I go to the beach, I reflect that, wow, years ago I would not have been able to swim at the beach of my choice and I would’ve had to go to a beach that was for black people only.
Mansfield: Dr. King has definitely helped define how we live today, how we aspire and how we inspire. I've now formed a charity to help the disenfranchised, giving a modicum of dignity to those most fragile, regardless of race, creed or color. Mine may not be a fight for civil rights but my vision nonetheless reflects Dr. King's call for equality, treating others as I wish to be treated.
McDowell: The respect that MLK engendered can be felt in all aspects of our culture, including in the corporate world. Certainly his accomplishments have paved the way for many of us to realize our dream.
Owens: In my worst times I would hold a vision that things will get better. I would say I have seen the promised land and things will change. Dr King never gave up and neither can I.
Sharpley: If not for Dr. King, I feel we (blacks) would not have the opportunities we have today. I can now move rather freely around the world because reform happened here in America, the most powerful nation in the world.
What specific King ideas or philosophical beliefs do you use in your pursuit of success?
Diggs: I believe that if I can dream it I can achieve it. I have a determined spirit that comes from celebrating my blackness. It has become an asset in my mind.
Harris: I try and treat everyone with basic respect and not judge them based on their color, ethnic background, physical characteristics and age. I am grateful for being able to work with all nationalities, worship with all nationalities and sexual orientation and beliefs. I believe that we are all the same so I treat everyone the way that I would like to be treated.
Mansfield: Not accepting mediocrity in treatment or actions, not of myself or others, and claiming my inalienable right to pursue my path with vigor, dignity, courage and conviction.
McDowell: I have a dream. And I know that MLK dreamed of a new world that could look at each human being as an individual, not as a color; our undeniable similarities, not our limited differences. Circle of One Marketing, the name and corporate culture, was founded on this principle. We are One.
Owens: Service to others. Sharpley: Outreach directly to the people, community activism, coalition building, non-violent reform, educational foundation building, these are just a few, I could list more if I had more time.
Has King’s Dream been fulfilled? Why or why not?
Diggs: It has not, but we are a long way from where we used to be. Racism is still alive and well. It has become more covert than overt but we press on.
Harris: I think his dream is still a work in progress. I believe that we fulfilled part of his dream. I don’t think he would have wanted it to stop by his death. I think we somehow lost that marching appeal, that sit-in appeal and t I will do whatever I need to in order to make sure everyone is entitled to basic rights.
Mansfield: Most definitely a work in progress. We have made tremendous strides but still have some way to go to truly fulfill the dream of equality and non-discrimination. Unfortunately, people still see color before character, sexual orientation before reputation, religion before redemption.
McDowell: To an extent. It still upsets me that MLK's holiday is not completely embraced by corporate America. Of course it is honored at The Circle. However, any dream worth having is usually a process and we are living that process. I know that if MLK had been here to witness the election, inauguration and presidency of Barack Obama, he would have known that his dream and his life's work took a leap forward.
Owens: Yes and no. It will take more time but we cannot give up. We must continue to fight. Let our children bear witness we kept the King Dream alive.
Sharpley: In many ways, yes. We have a black President, which was really not even a conceptual possibility before Barack Obama. We are further along financially and educationally, statistically. But there are still many challenges within the Diaspora. There is still a divide socio-economically, and within the Pan African Diaspora, culturally. Many have lost, in a lot of ways, a drive for education, not necessarily and only academic, but a quest for knowledge above and beyond circumstance.
Does your neighborhood reflect a King-inspired community?
Diggs: Not really, but it is not because people cannot live in my community. Some of us still harbor resentment and even we discriminate.
Harris: I think my neighborhood represents his philosophy. Had it not been for him, I might not have been able to live in a mixed community and feel safe.
Mansfield: Though by no means a utopia, my immediate neighborhood is a reflection of the dream: black/white and in between, male/female, straight/gay, Jew/gentile coexisting peacefully, happily.
McDowell: I live in Miami Shores for the exact reason that it is a completely integrated community. I did not want my daughter growing up in an all-white, all-black or all-Hispanic neighborhood. I wanted her to know and socialize with all cultures, which I believe was the core of King's message.
Sharpley: I live in a mixed neighborhood, whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Indians, so, yes, my neighborhood reflects a King-inspired community.
If you could speak directly to him, what would you say to King?
Diggs: That I was with him on his changing views on Vietnam. That I believe that his philosophy was beginning to change and that I am glad that the only picture that exists between him and Malcolm is of the two of them smiling. It gave me hope and it teaches me that there was a sincere sense of respect that they had for each other and their different messages.
Harris: I would thank him for the sacrifices that he made. I would tell him that I appreciated him being a strong voice for civil rights so that my daughter would have opportunities and live in a society where a black man could be President.
Mansfield: Thank you.
McDowell: Thank you.
Owens: Thank you for teaching me that one person can make a difference — the power of one.
Sharpley: Thank you. You sparked one of the greatest revolutions in history and have created an environment for everyone to benefit, not only blacks.
Renee Michelle Harris may be contacted at RMHarris15@Bellsouth.net.
Photo: Bill Diggs