By Marc Chambers, Associate General Counsel
Today, we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This day not only honors the extraordinary life and achievements of Dr. King, but it also encourages reflection of the ongoing pursuit of equality and justice. As a healthcare company, TeamHealth recognizes the interconnectedness of societal well-being and health, so we strive to embody the principles of compassion and inclusivity championed by Dr. King in our commitment to providing equitable healthcare for all. As I reflect on this day and what it means, I think of my father who persevered against many odds to become a voice for change.
Overcoming Obstacles To Be a Champion for Good
The name Martin Luther King was becoming well-known in my native West Indies in the late fifties and early sixties. The idea of a “colored” man successfully bringing together a smorgasbord of like-minded champions-for-good across race and class to effect social change was remarkably compelling. As many Caribbean countries were working towards gaining independence from the British, seeing a Black man transforming attitudes and revered by certain factions of White society was greatly empowering.
In 1962, my father was fortunate enough to arrive fresh from Trinidad to attend Yale on a scholarship. He was struck by the energy of the place and the electric nationwide atmosphere fueled by the budding Civil Rights Movement. White classmates, eager allies, were boarding buses by the dozens to head south to attend marches. They urged him to join them.
I would love to tell you about how he traveled to the south and stood in-person and awestruck listening to Reverend King, but he did not get on the bus.
Trinidad & Tobago had only gained independence the month he ventured to the U.S. alone. Growing up Black under Colonial rule taught one to know one’s place. It was a different time.
Some of his enthusiasm was also likely dampened by a professor he had vigorously debated in a philosophy seminar who afterward reminded my father of his “place.” The professor told him he was only there to enlighten the “real” students of the university. Even so, my father aced the class due to the fact the college had a blind exam policy which meant the professor had no idea who wrote the final paper.
This idea that promoting underrepresented individuals undermines merit is a hindrance to needed progress. Companies who recognize that better reflecting the communities they serve both enhances their service delivery and bolsters their ability to adapt to industry change being propelled by an evolving cultural landscape.
Returning Home To Be a Voice for Change
After college, struggling with the internal conflict of calls to activism, and the challenges to his sense of belonging, my father was steeled to return to Trinidad and confront the established ways. Economics degree in hand, he set his eyes on the world of banking. He founded a finance company with a true rainbow team of merit bent on discarding preconceived limitations of “one’s place.” However, this is not a Kumbaya tale. They had to overcome obstacles placed by those who had benefitted from the status quo. Still, theirs became a blueprint for a new ideology for reaching deep into underserved communities to find mutual success and common ground. This time, they all got on the bus.
For those like his band of misfits “not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character” was a call to recognize worthy content of character. It was crucial to identify merit and develop potential in the communities they served. Any company that successfully did this would surely draw perspectives from a broader and deeper talent pool than its competitors who did not.
Carrying on Dr. King’s Legacy to Ensure Health Equity
Today, I reflect on Dr. King’s legacy and in doing so look to the future. For every screaming voice of hatred and every sower of hate, there continues to emerge an inspiring stream of good voices that invoke MLK’s message of inclusive and prosperous peace. TeamHealth promotes this message by creating programs that encourage, enrich and empower employees. An ever-increasing number of employee resource groups exist to support administrative professionals and clinicians across the country. Their voices seek to uplift to be a positive change ensuring health equity in the communities they serve and beyond.
Happy birthday Dr. King. While there will likely always be work to be done, rest assured that your powerful words and actions continue to change minds and lend hope to our future.