Last year, I realized why my family from the south doesn’t know how to swim–they weren’t allowed to.
Segregation in the jim crow south forbid blacks from swimming in public pools. So much to the disgust of some, that pools were drained and acid was poured to clean the “black” out of the water.
Now, our children can swim freely with families of all races, creeds, colors, and backgrounds. I’m grateful for the work of Dr. King and others during the civil rights movement.
As I share gratitude, I realize that their work wasn’t just about access to water fountains, pools, restaurants, hotels, and schools–it was about access to positional power for all people.
In 1977, Jerold Auerbach wrote an article about unequal justice and the evolution of lawyers and social change in America. His article asserted that the profession of law was an elite social club that was intentionally segregated until 1912, and hyper-exclusionary through the 1960s.
Practicing law included access to exclusive knowledge, money, relationships, capital, and influence. Blacks and other minorities were not given access to this power. As a result, these groups had less opportunity to advocate for their issues, and grow as an economic and social engine in America.
Still today, African Americans represent only 4.8% of attorneys in America, but are 7-times more affected by the criminal justice system. Dr. King opened up the door to positional power for all people, and we must continue to advance.
The law isn’t the only field like this. Many fields still lack diversity in leadership positions, especially when it comes to industries that are frontiers for the next generation.
We have to build an inspiring group of leaders who have diversity in mind, are focused on the task at hand, and are exceptional at what they do. We especially need these leaders in politics.
As we celebrate our history, let’s continue the work of an American legend. Honor him by advancing a cause that builds on his legacy.