What the Civil Rights Movement still teaches us

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In October, I attended a commemoration and celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party at the Oakland Museum in California. I didn’t expect to be impacted so deeply.

The conference itself was a diverse rainbow of race, ethnicity and age. I saw people I had not seen in more than 30 years, but it felt like just yesterday.

The sessions I attended had deep and personal meaning to me. One focused on the original Rainbow Coalition of black, brown and white people who worked together to feed hungry kids, promote consciousness and action on race and economic disparities, and improve the quality of life for everyone.

As a white teenager, I joined the Rainbow Coalition and learned how to bring people from different backgrounds together to dialogue, share their experiences and find common ground.

The work of the original Rainbow Coalition — and those who went before, like the Freedom Riders, the participants in the 1963 March on Washington and the defenders of voting rights — laid the groundwork for diversity and inclusion in business, government and education.

The Civil Rights Movement was the impetus for gender equality, LGBT rights and the push for greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Bringing the Rainbow Coalition to work

In some ways, I’m not the person I was more than 30 years ago.

I’m less dogmatic and more flexible. I don’t have to be right and don’t always think I am right. I look for the good in people and assume positive intent unless I’m shown otherwise.

I’ve learned to see many different perspectives and understand where people are coming from when we don’t agree. I’m willing to change my position on issues when I have additional information.

I’m more conservative in some ways and more liberal in others. But I still believe in working to create a better world, a better country and bring more humanity to our communities and workplaces.

I still believe in the importance of people listening to each other and bringing people together from different backgrounds to learn, collaborate and become bigger. I believe everyone has the right to an opportunity to be successful and prosper.

I thought that since I’ve become “mainstream” and part of “corporate life,” my role in the original Rainbow Coalition was another part of me.

But I’ve come to realize the values of equality and the ability to bring people together across race, ethnicity, age and other demographic labels are rooted in my past. I think that is what enables me to sit down with senior executives and their employees to help them collaborate and innovate.

The key to being productive is how we synthesize, analyze and learn from our lives. We have choices. Let’s keep moving forward as diversity champions to build inclusion and create the workplaces, communities and world in which we want to live together.

Blog Author Bio

Simma Lieberman is a diversity and inclusion and culture change consultant, speaker and coach and a frequent contributor to the Network of Executive Women.

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