A Leader’s Path Toward Equity: Dr. King’s Example for Us All

A special post from the Alliance for Children and Families' Center on Leadership for Martin Luther King Jr. Day:

This week we take a moment to celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., who truly embodied what exemplary leadership is all about. In many respects, King’s burning passion and value for equity, justice, and engagement mirrors what the nonprofit human-serving sector is about in achieving their mission today.

King’s message was clear: Equity and equality for all citizens in this great nation were necessary if we were going to achieve great things for neighborhoods, communities, and society as a whole.

As a leader, many times King undoubtedly found himself alone as he forged ahead in creating better neighborhoods, communities, and a people. King found himself engaging in adaptive leadership as he continuously challenged the status quo on an individual and collective level.

Undeniably, King found himself pushing those around him, family and friends included, to understand that the work in achieving equity was not an easy goal and could not be resolved by just one individual, but only by the collective. His power was not so much in his speeches or boycotts or marches for freedom. His power as a leader was in taking a stand when no one else would on some of this nation’s most difficult challenges. His power as a leader was not so much in his steady and determined voice, but in his relentless pursuit in giving voice to those who found themselves without one, and emboldening individuals to understand their own voice and power.

King's leadership should continue to be a wake-up call for us as leaders in the nonprofit human-serving sector. Our power is not so much in how many we serve, but how we serve. Our power is not so much in how many contracts and fundraising dollars we can secure, but in understanding how a network of human serving organizations collectively can lift those whom we serve out of the depths of poverty, despair, and hopelessness. Our power is not in our buildings and assets, but in giving people relevancy and meaning in their own neighborhoods and communities. Our power as human-serving sector leaders will come from rejecting a “that will do” mindset and attitude from those around us, and instead pushing those we lead and those we follow to be their very best in working and co-creating permanent and impactful solutions with all individuals in communities and neighborhoods across this nation.

It is worth remembering the words King stated in his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech when we, as leaders in the sector, feel like we are alone in what we do: 

“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”

The Alliance not only salutes King on this day, but all of the leaders in the human-serving sector who know what it means to be courageous and stubbornly critical of anything less than excellence. They are the leaders with a burning passion to create a better world through the important work taking place within and outside our organizations.

Learn more about the Alliance's Commitments of High-Impact Organizations, including Advancing Equity.

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