On the morning of January 18th, the Leaders Connect Breakfast members met to honor the great civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The panel was facilitated by Sonya Jacobs, Chief Organizational Officer at the University of Michigan. Click here to watch the discussion. Below is a summary of some key take-aways:
Sonya Jacobs shared that although she was born after MLk was assassinated, her father, who had helped organize “the Great Walk” in Detroit, instilled in her a need for activism. He encouraged her to have a voice and not let anything hold her back.
Marvin Parnes, Ann Arbor Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities, Interim Executive Director, grew up in the South Bronx where his family had immigrated from Eastern Europe. His father was a communist. Marvin attended City College in the 60’s, during a time of civil unrest. Marvin admired MLK as a larger than life figure. He admired the way MLK stood for social justice, equality, non-violence, and love of humanity. During college, Marvin became involved in a protest to promote an open admissions policy at the college. He encourages us to restore MLK’s vision today and engage in caring and doing something. He warns against hypocrisy in using the social change platform to only look like the “right thing” is being done. “It should not only be about the statistics.” He states there needs to be a sincere honesty and transparency about diversity and inclusion.
Lori Saginaw, a Dispute Resolution Specialist and Japanese American, shared stories about her mother’s experience in the United States during WWII, when her and her family were forced into an internment camp.Lori states that her story is not only important to her but it should be important to everyone. She hopes for more dialogue around sharing stories and experiences around race. Lori’s mom did not talk about her experience much, but Lori wanted her mom to be more vocal about the injustices she had experienced.
Last year, Lori’s 96 mother along with her entire extended family made an emotional return visit to the internment camp in a remote section of Northern California. Lori believes that if we encourage more mutual dialogue, we will come to realize we are all part of the journey together. She reminds us that MLK knew that standing up against injustice may make you a target, and she encourages us to not be afraid and to go forth with the intention to make others uncomfortable. It is through the discomfort that change is created.
Paul Saginaw, Zingerman’s co-founder, grew up in a fully integrated neighborhood with a liberal family.Still he recalls that his mom would not allow him to invite his best friend, an African American, neighbor boy, to his bat mitzvah. He had to come up with an excuse to give his best friend as to why he couldn’t come. The shame of excluding his friend due to his race has stuck with Paul to this day. He vowed to be very aware of biases and to take steps in his business to offer equal opportunities to everyone. We know the rest of the story to that – Zingerman’s is one of the most respected businesses in the country, well known for its strong commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity.
Deb Orlowski, University of Michigan, Senior Learning Specialist, Leading Change Practicum Program Manager, grew up in a very conservative family in Buffalo, NY. She went to school with many Jewish children and knew survivors of the holocaust. As many young girls did at the time, Deb was interested in the story of Anne Frank, which was made famous by her father publishing her diary, after her death in a concentration camp. Deb often wondered if she would have the courage to shelter Anne and her family. This impacted the way she wanted to go forth in the world. When MLK came on the scene, her conservative community viewed him as an agitator. Deb was inspired by him. Even though he was human and had flaws, he was working on being righteous and saw that even though you have doubts, we must follow his example. She decided if people have less, she wanted to serve them.
Sonya concluded by taking comments and questions from the audience. Kevin Gillespie shared that he saw MLK speak in Detroit a few months before he was assassinated. He recalls the intense hateful energy his family encountered from people protesting outside the rally and how it was magnified while inside the rally. However, what resonated with him the most was his mother’s resolve to take her children to see this great man speak and then MLK’s peaceful manner in dealing with the hecklers. Kevin encourages us not only consider our own personal racial biases but to go further and consider how we challenge injustices. From this we will discover institutional racism, and decide to take one of two actions: do nothing (continue institutional racism) or stake a stand to end it.
I would be interested in your comments and suggestions for next our panel next year.