Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's Legacy BY LETTING HIS IDEALS LIVE ON THROUGH ME: A MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCATE FIGHTING FOR SOCIAL CHANGERead Now
Can you imagine a now 91-year old Dr. Martin Luther King Jr giving me, a mental health advocate, this pragmatic advice: “convince a CEO why he needs to retain someone with depression or PTSD versus fire him, then you’re set"?
Dr. King was viewed by many as a troublemaker, in the best sense of the word. He understood what it meant to create discomfort and disharmony. But, his underlying intent was always to do so for our collective well-being. For that, we owe him our collective gratitude.
To affect meaningful social change on behalf of those our team advocates for, we too must walk in his footsteps and be troublemakers or changemakers as we like to call ourselves. Speaking for myself, as an advocate for those with serious mental (read brain) illnesses, I will not advocate for those without a heart.
Dr. King would not have doled out that advice I was given, albeit my head did understand it was a matter-of-fact suggestion in today's heartless business world where people are often subjected to the almighty dollar's reign. However, my heart was not only disillusioned but my sensitive soul brutally reminded of why, after being laid off during the throes of a deep bipolar depression from a stigma-laden workplace and subsequently trying to take my own life, I have no desire to return to cold-hearted Corporate America. (You can read my story here).
MLK is gone, But I Choose to Honor HIS LEGACY.
Dr. King’s simple answer to those who condemned idealism, preached the quiet cynicism of self-limiting “pragmatism,” insisting it is “how the world works,” was he was “maladjusted.”
In a 1963 speech at Western Michigan University, he said:
“There are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted. ... I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence.”
I too am maladjusted. I never intend to become adjusted to mental health stigma, i.e., discrimination. I never intend to adjust to the heartlessness of those who fire or lay people off because they bravely come forward and say they are struggling with depression. To the bigotry of those who fire people when they discover they have bipolar disorder. To the ignorance of those who don’t hire people because they are neurodivergent, e.g., by some reports, unemployment of autistic professionals with college degrees may be as high as 90 percent.
And, I never intend to adjust to those who need to be convinced it is cheaper to retain people who have depression versus lay them off as I believe I have suffered enough. I live in California, an at will State, where you can be fired for no reason, and I am painfully aware of this fact. There is zero accountability or recourse for those of us who get let go because of our mental health struggles.
We should all be insisting this is not how the world should work. It is those who are leading our companies to whom I say, please adjust your business mindset, tune into these simple human facts below and, let us bridge this gap.
In his “I Have a Dream” speech, which I pray will reverberate from our classrooms across the country today, I also hope we hear these prophetic words:
“I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.” ~ Dr. King, I Have a Dream Speech delivered in Washington, 1963
In the words of Barack Obama, we have an empathy deficit. And, I can hear Dr. King whispering, we must undergo a "radical revolution of values" and demand empathy back in our workplaces.
Putting people before profits and leading with empathy is the ONLY sustainable path forward in our new normal.
Perhaps I am an idealist but one thing is for damn sure - there is a glaring bright light on the other side of the bridge beaconing us forward: putting people before profits and leading with empathy is the golden sustainable path to remaining not only profitable in our new normal but, more importantly, attaining mental wellness for all.
Can there be any doubt that Dr. King would be devoting his energies to fighting for those with chronic mental conditions who remain excluded from DEIB programs? Who get laid off or fired because they struggle through no fault of their own with disabilities that are invisible or keep hidden because of shame due to stigma? Who must work in environments that are not inclusive or psychologically safe with no needed mental health supports as they cannot afford otherwise?
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” ~ Dr. King in his speech to the Medical Committee for Human Rights, 1966
Given all we know of Dr. King’s values, it is not unreasonable for our team to believe that his spirit also lives on in our Accelerating Mental Wellness Campaign, a grassroots social change campaign for the people by the people. Our goal is to eradicate stigma from our workplaces, rebuild corporate cultures on a foundation of empathy, inclusivity and wellness, bringing in needed mental health programs and supports for all.
Three Ways you can help support mental wellness for all
If you hear Dr. King whispering to you too and want to eradicate stigma in our workplaces and bring empathy back, here are 4 simple ways you can help:
We can of course never be sure how Dr. King might view all of our current pressing issues. But, he can still guide us through his rich and deep record of words, deeds and actions. This is how, as mental health advocates and, we as concerned citizens, can best honor his memory and his life of service.
The world needs more (pacifist) troublemakers or changemakers who make us feel discomfort and disharmony. By making people feel uncomfortable as well as making them accountable for detrimental human costs of their "pragmatic" choices, we truly can affect change for the social good.
In the words of my dear friends and fellow tribe mates, Jack and Allié McGuire, Founders of AwarenessTies at www.iamawarenow.com, we will no longer wait for permission to change the world.
With gratitude and with hope. #RIPMLK
Kerry Martin, Mental Health Advocate, self-proclaimed troublemaker and changemaker, CEO and Founder, Accelerating Social Good.