By Arva Rice, President and CEO of the New York Urban League
Dear Young Professional Community,
As the nation recognizes the birth and contributions of the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I cannot help but appreciate how far we have come while recognizing the work that still needs to be done. This year the New York Urban League’s own Young Professionals organized not one – but two – service days when the number of individuals wanting to volunteer their time exceeded capacity. The Young Professionals’ efforts not only helped improve a local school and provide career opportunities for youth, but also challenged a prevailing stereotype that “millennial’s” are not committed to their communities. Our Young Professionals are daily answering one of MLK’s most persistent and urgent questions, “what are you doing for others?”
Still, as pleased as I am with our Young Professionals, I know that should one choose a hooded sweatshirt rather than a suit and tie, they may be subject to a dream unfilled. I am aware of the hundreds of thousands of black and brown youth whose daily attire draws scrutiny, at best, arrests, harassment and death at worst. More than 50 years after MLK’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, one race in casual clothes may be deemed an innovator while another similarly adorned is deemed a criminal.
While some are quick to declare President Barack Obama’s election is a signal of a post racial America, I beg to differ. While recently attending a retreat focused on Leadership, Authority and Organizational Life, I was struck again by King’s infamous words,”I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” King dreamed of a world where the color of a person’s skin would not predetermine how much that person could achieve. It is important to note that King did not ask us to become color blind. For me to become color-blind is to essentially wipe out a history of a group of people. It is to strip a group of their collective identity and shared experience. Yes it is a group of people that were enslaved and oppressed, but has also achieved at incredible levels with strength, faith and grace. So this week we pause to unflinchingly look at our past and enthusiastically invest in our future.
Happy Birthday Dr. King, the legacy continues.
About the Author, Arva Rice
Arva Rice is President & CEO of the New York Urban League (NYUL) an organization whose mission is to enable African Americans and other underserved communities to secure a first class education, economic self-reliance and equal respect of their civil rights through programs, services and advocacy. Prior to joining NYUL, she served as the Executive Director of Project Enterprise, an organization that provides business loans, technical assistance and peer support to New York City entrepreneurs. Arva was selected by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a national foundation that develops solutions to build a brighter future for children, as one of 16 leaders from across the country for its 2013-2014 Children and Family Fellows.