h beecher hicks

H. Beecher Hicks III, President and CEO, National Black MBA Association

published on January 15, 2024 - 1:28 PM
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I was honored on Saturday to speak at a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in North Georgia. The theme was “Together We are the Dream,” and, when I first heard it, it felt good. That’s the ideal. We need to be Dr. King’s dream.

But I became confused. The topic didn’t sit right with me. “Together We are the Dream” made me uncomfortable.

“Dr. King wasn’t using metaphors and rhetoric in his speech to make us feel warm inside. Martin was talking about MONEY.”

So, I asked myself, what was Dr. King’s dream anyway?

In August of 1963, at the March on Washington, he said:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal… that every hill and mountain shall be made low… and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

Well, there it is! That should answer my question.

But are we there yet?

Everyone knows that Dr. King gave his most famous speech at the March on Washington. What we often overlook is that the March was actually called the “March on Washington for JOBS and Freedom.” The point of the March was to demand equal access to employment for all.

Dr. King wasn’t using metaphors and rhetoric in his speech just to make us feel warm inside. Dr. King wasn’t just talking about social justice and the right to sit at a lunch counter. Martin was talking about MONEY.

When Dr. King shared his dream, he wasn’t just talking about the ability to use the water fountain or sit on the bus; he was talking about the right to rise out of poverty, to get a good job, and to buy a house.

It is much easier — cleaner — to remember King’s narrative as one that begins with the Montgomery Bus Boycott and ends, victoriously, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This is what made him a hero to all of us. But his career as a theologian and activist is much more nuanced. It was when he began to speak about economic injustice that it cost him his life.

So, are we together? Since the March in 1963, have we become the Dream?

— According to the Harvard Business Review, white job applicants are 36% more likely to get a callback for a job opportunity than a black applicant.

— In 2019, black homeownership was at about 40% while white homeownership was at 73%.

— In 2019, the wealthiest ten men in the United States added $347 billion to their net worth while eight million more people fell below the poverty line.

— In 2022, women earned only eighty-two cents for every dollar that a man made.

— The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 since 2009! Fortunately, twenty-five states are raising the minimum wage this year. There’s a little more togetherness.

There are bright spots in the data, but we are not yet together, and we cannot yet say that we are the Dream.

King’s focus on economic justice challenged the foundation of the American economic system. He argued for a rethinking of how the American economy works. For example, today Dr. King would have supported innovation like the AmeriCorps program, which creates government-funded jobs that enhance the social order, or the Universal Basic Income programs that cities such as Rochester, New York , and Durham, North Carolina, are piloting. King wanted to give every American the opportunity to earn a living and contribute to this nation through the dignity of their work.

The complete interpretation of King’s dream includes not only the idea that one day “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers” but also that those same young adults will have a level playing field when it comes to accessing opportunity and creating stable lives for their families. King not only wanted equal justice under the law; he wanted equal prosperity under the law too. Martin wanted jobs AND freedom!

In this regard, we are not together.

So how do we come together to become the Dream? Today Dr. King would remind us that black and white is not the problem, poverty is. He would remind Christians that Muslims and Jews aren’t the problem and insist that only if we are together can we become the Dream. He would remind us that American ideals and values must be made available to all of us. That’s the only way that we’ll ever be able to say that Together We are the Dream.

Henry Beecher Hicks III is the CEO and president of the National Black MBA Association, which boasts more than 40 chapters nationwide and stands as a distinguished nonprofit organization with a history spanning over 50 years. It is dedicated to championing excellence and diversity within the business world. Through a myriad of programs, networking opportunities, and educational initiatives, NBMBAA empowers black professionals to thrive in their careers while fostering a more inclusive and equitable corporate landscape.

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