Offering education, outreach and service this MLK Day

Action is as important as using the right words.

Observed on the third Monday of January to mark the birthday of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., MLK Day is a timely opportunity for comms teams to kick off their diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts with a focus on engaging internal and external audiences both.

But there’s no mistaking that many DE&I professionals face significant challenges to their missions. One of the most prominent is the rise of “DE&I fatigue”, which refers to the exhaustion one can experience at the front lines of DE&I efforts. When that obstacle presents itself, it can be a tough determination for the people behind the important diversity-centered work on how to press forward.

Amid a year when DE&I education is openly challenged, communicators and their colleagues who work specifically within the DE&I function should work hand-in-glove with other leaders, partners and community organizations to advance their DE&I benchmarks with a tangible, strategic and actionable plan.

In honor of a man who knew that words needed definitive action to follow them to make a real difference, let’s look at a few ways comms and DE&I pros can make a tangible impact on and around MLK Day.

Education and outreach

One of the biggest starts of a successful DE&I strategy involves educating and reaching out to the communities an organization interacts with. Whether it’s through an event series on the impact of inclusive values on the community or a statement or multimedia clip that celebrates the holiday, there are a few great examples to choose from.

First, let’s look at the NBA’s “It’s Time” video, released for MLK Day 2024. The 30-second clip features clips of players serving the community, speaking at MLK-related events, and old clips of Dr. King, over a narrator telling the viewer that “it’s time to speak up and listen up.”

The importance of this approach is two-fold. As a majority-Black league, the NBA is showing that it supports its players and their commitment to diversity efforts. But it also signals a call to action (including the not-so-subtle inclusion of “I Voted” stickers in an election year) and positions the NBA as an organization with a stake in making a positive difference.

Organizations can also use MLK Day as an opportunity to educate employees on Dr. King’s life, work and ideas. In one upcoming example, Aerodei, a platform that helps organizations read demographic benchmark data with the power of AI, will host an event titled “Advancing the Vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”,  when CEO Netta Jenkins will alk with civil rights activist Tylik McMillan, allowing employees (along with the general public) to tune in. These events are powerful because they position your organization as a place for educational conversation and idea-sharing that ties back to your culture.

Acts of service

Of course, education starts from within, and savvy organizations will take MLK Day as an opportunity to showcase the values of their workforce. Last year, Amazon set a high bar when it featured employees sharing what MLK Day means to them and their volunteer efforts.

This campaign is impactful because it doesn’t just show messaging from the corporate level — it allows employees to educate external audiences on their commitments by emphasizing their personal, lived experiences. This clip works as employer branding while reinforcing a core tenet of the company’s employee value proposition (EVP). DE&I’s power and impact comes from platforming underrepresented and unheard perspectives, and this piece of content shows how that can be used to commemorate Dr. King while nurturing culture at the same time.

Communicators should also serve as a conduit to employee volunteering efforts. By working with DE&I and ESG functions within the organization, comms can advance team volunteer projects, time off for volunteer work, and more. In addition, good volunteer comms can encourage employees to form their own volunteer efforts that other employees can join in through employee resource groups.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy centered on the idea that tangible action needs to follow meaningful words. As DE&I communicators, let’s take a leaf from his book to make our words—and actions—count.

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.

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