A few months ago, I went on a work trip to Memphis to facilitate an immersive Design Thinking experience for a great group of leaders. What I didn’t know when I left for the trip was that I would be facilitating a day-long session inside the National Civil Rights Museum.
I also did not realize it was the actual location Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
I didn’t know that the museum preserved his room and recreated the scene exactly as it was on the day he was killed. When I scanned the room, the bed, the china set, I was immediately overcome with emotion. I was standing on hallowed ground – it’s where one of my heroes died.
I saw that another woman (one of two Black participants) was equally as jarred as I was, and I immediately grabbed her shoulders and guided her to the restroom so we could collect ourselves.
While it was not intentional, the planners of this event did not fully take into account how being confronted with this horrific moment in history might affect participants and staff, particularly the Black individuals. I also don’t think they considered what some would have to push through in order to be fully present during the meeting.
The organizers apologized profusely when I shared my concerns. They have also made some useful adjustments to prepare participants prior to attending the session. I’m grateful to have such amazing partners to work with who genuinely seek to understand and correct mistakes with they occur. It was a rough one for me, if I’m honest. But as with everything else, there is always something to learn from the experience.
There are three lessons that I want you to take away from this story:
1) Be sensitive to how situations and environments may impact members of your team.
Being mindful about how this could have affected participants and facilitators of this group and providing advance notice would have gone a long way. This is also why having a diverse team helps, because you don’t know what you don’t know. With a diverse team, someone can fill in the gaps of knowledge or bring a different perspective on this such as event spaces.
In addition, encouraging everyone to be mindful and respectful of how the environment may affect their colleagues would have created a safe space for us to express these emotions rather than feeling like we had to collect ourselves and continue on as usual.
2) Dr. King’s legacy lives on within us.
While I was so angry to be standing in the place where he was killed, it was not lost on me that I am part of Dr. King’s lived dream. I was able to stand there that day and facilitate that session due to the sacrifices he made, in pursuit of his dream that we would all be treated equally.
To realize the duality of anger and sadness alongside pride and gratitude for the life I’m able to lead thanks to this man and the movement he led, I couldn’t help but to be overcome with emotion.
3) Let’s all take a moment to pause and remember the weight of this day.
It’s easy for Dr. King to become a picture shared on social media or an “I Have a Dream” quote on a t-shirt. But it’s important for us to remember the movement that he gave his life for, and the progress that we’ve made since then. It’s also important to remember the work ahead of us to ensure his dream lives on.
So whatever that means for you – a few moments of thought, rewatching his speech, talking about it with friends & family, or visiting the National Civil Rights Museum if you’re in Memphis – take some time today to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the impact he has had on all of our lives.