A Day On, Not A Day Off: Reflections On MLK Day
By Nadir H. Wright, Manger of Data Insights & Analytics
As the incoming employee resources group chair for Mosaic–the Black Professionals Network, I am honored to work for an organization that acknowledges the holiday that commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a paid holiday. The SF Fed is a special place for me because not only do employees get the holiday, but I get to further Dr. King’s dream every day. Thanks to President Mary Daly, the Executive Leadership Team, and the SF Fed’s Framework for Change, the Bank faces racial and ethnic equity matters head-on.
Dialogue is one of the four pillars of the Framework for Change, so I am especially grateful for the opportunity to share some personal reflections on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and why the holiday honoring his legacy matters.
Why MLK Day matters to me
I spent much of my career working in the private sector. Unfortunately, none of the private sector companies I worked for gave us Martin Luther King Jr. Day off. Perhaps more importantly, they did not even acknowledge the day as important. It was always just another Monday in mid-January.
Over the years, I had resigned acceptance to this inequity. Resigned acceptance is a standard survival tactic for marginalized people who feel powerless to change injustice. I quietly conceded that the circumstance was unfair but acquiesced. I sometimes took the MLK holiday off to enjoy time with family and friends, but mostly I showed up to work as if the day had no significance. Ironically, I was showing up to jobs I likely would not have held were it not for Dr. King and the non-violent civil rights movement he led for more than 13 years before his assassination.
My grandparents raised me in New Jersey. They, their siblings, and friends were all transplants from the South. They all fled the cruel and oppressive Jim Crow regime that sought to disenfranchise blacks and maintain a white social hierarchy. They believed life in the North was different and would afford them and their descendants a better opportunity to thrive and realize the “American Dream.” This has proven true in many ways, but structural and institutional racism is so much a part of the American DNA that it still permeates virtually all aspects of our society.
My grandmother, Shirley, was a high school English teacher for nearly 40 years. She was the first of her family to graduate college; she attended Savannah State University, the oldest Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in Georgia. She celebrated Black History Month all month and regularly produced educational events that memorialized the ongoing struggle of Black Americans since the first enslaved people arrived in Jamestown in 1601. She always made a big deal about Dr. King and his contributions. For decades, she produced an event called the Martin Luther King Breakfast, where she invited hundreds of friends and associates to come together to commemorate Dr. King and the progress that has been accomplished.
My grandmother’s dedication to honoring the accomplishments of Black Americans instilled a sense of pride in me. This has been an essential ingredient to my successes, and it has served as much needed counter-programming to the negative programming that Black Americans receive from society. Specifically, I learned the importance of helping others and continually educating myself about the past, present, and future. Furthermore, I embrace the maxim of always living in the solution rather than dwelling in the problem.
What would King do?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an extraordinary person. He furthered the cause of equal rights for all and created a template for other marginalized people to follow in pursuit of equality. At just 39, he was gunned down in an act of political violence because he dared to confront the social hierarchy.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ultimate service and sacrifice to our country and the world inspires me to do more. I recently registered for an upcoming volunteer opportunity, and my goal is to incorporate volunteering into my monthly schedule. I implore you to consider ways to serve in your communities, support worthy causes, and learn more about the truth of our nation’s resilient history. Our collective actions combine to create meaningful and lasting impact.