2016 UPDATE: Last night, Stewart Butterfield took the first step of any major business leader in Tech. He wrote this (which is currently trending on Medium as its #2 most read piece!), and Slack's offices are today closed in observance of the holiday. Parents are home with their kids, non-parents are out to spend the day in our communities. This is how today is best spent. Thank you Stewart, for leading the way. <3
This past week, the Rev Jesse Jackson published an article asking Tech companies to observe MLK Day.
As a child, my Detroit area school district observed MLK Day unlike any in California (or possibly anywhere) do. That day our schoolteachers and administrators emerged from those roles we'd known them in, and stood before us as veterans of the Civil Rights Movement (which because that was the 1980s, was more natural than phenomenal). We sang songs, watched films, heard stories. It was powerful. So powerful. How that could really be done today, w/o all of those Civil Rights veterans present to tell their unique stories; to inspire the audience to live each day out in the world as people of duty to community service & justice in the face of injustice; I don't know. But I do know, that schools today must somehow keep up that tradition.
As programming for children, that was perfect. How about adults? Unlike children, adults have matured to become voters and supporters of things that represent a breadth of viewpoints; views that may object to war or unions, but could support war or unions. Views that on all social issues, are often not aligned. Views that as adults in our workplaces, we're entitled by law (and just common sense) to not force upon one another or have challenged by our employers.
Well: in response to that, there's LOTS of ways our workplaces can honor the legacy of Dr. King, this upcoming Monday. The most obvious way, is to simply close the doors and to honor the national holiday. No work. Be with your families. Honor the sacrifice made by Dr King, on this day.
Conversely, businesses can also look to this day as an opportunity for team-building, in service to our local communities. Everyone show-up. Have there be a morning all-hands where business leaders present materials to educate employees about areas of socio-economoic need in our communities. Especially in Tech companies that have more than 1,000 employees in one location, as Tech's demographics are a radical departure from the demographics in our communities—show and tell on that. Show and tell on opportunities to change that. Frankly, many employees who’ve relocated here from other states or countries, may not realize we’re surrounded by poverty and disenfranchisement — and would want to know ways to help.
Use the afternoon to split-out and work together as teams. Some teams may leave to go off-campus and to community service as team-building. Others may go back to their work areas, and take-on a community service project for Code for America (or some similar such org). Spend a handful of afternoons or days over the next month, working on that project as a team. Something different to give-back, and something that may cost employers a few days in "lost" hours working on the products we sell—but something that only our community can give, and something that could make a tremendous impact on the world around us.
Teams could go to schools the day after MLK day, and do "Hour of Code" exercises with all the students. Students could conversely visit our campuses on MLK day, and either shadow us in our day to day work, or do Hour of Code exercises with us in the auditoriums & cafeterias on the larger tech campuses. How's that sound for revolution?! That sounds exciting as hell, to me! So little time away from our own day to day, but wow—what an experience, for the kids! Especially the kids from disenfranchised areas, whom are unlikely to know even one person who codes or works with cognitive science issues, for a living.
Dr. King was most well known as a leader in the Civil Rights movement, but education and rectifying systemic economic inequalities, were also passions of his. There is so much—SO MUCH—that our smartypants community in Tech, can give, in these realms. Dignity. Dignity for one and all, was Dr. King's greatest cause. Let's take this one day each year to spend outside our offices and with our communities, or in team-building efforts take a few more than that, each January (cough, when senior management is typically balancing budgets and locking-down roadmaps for the year ahead, anyway). We have SO MUCH POWER among us. Let us, in the honor of this man who gave his life at age 39 with a whole movement and wife and four children left behind. Let us stand together in our unwavering power, and give back.