Washington, DC – On January 21st the nation inaugurates Barack Obama, or “44”, for a second term presidency as we also commemorate the 84th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The juxtaposition of these events has generated much reflection in the media as well as other milestones later this year. In August, for example, we’ll mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the precursor to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1964 and the Civil Rights Act in 1965.
As a teen, my family’s legacy of civic activism allowed me to join that historic 1963 March, along with more than 250,000 nonviolent protestors. Five years later when Dr. King was assassinated on the balcony of a Memphis hotel, I was a co-ed at Boston University (where Dr. King earned his PhD in 1955) studying journalism and eager to pursue a career at The Boston Globe chronicling education and community change. His murder deeply affected an idealistic generation, now baby boomers. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, we’ve seen societal shifts foreshadowed in Dr. King’s dream about equality and justice that have advanced civil and human rights, women’s empowerment, marriage equality and growing support for key issues like the environment, economic justice and health care.
Once again, I’ll be on the iconic National Mall to celebrate an important American event. Dr. King’s prescient vision as articulated in the “I Have a Dream” speech will resonate in my thoughts. I was also there for the inauguration in 2009 and for the 20th anniversary of the March in 1983. There is a powerful link between Dr. King and President Obama, barely two years old when Dr. King spoke of “a nation where children would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.” These reminders may bring tears to my eyes.
However, I will not dwell on these memories but rather devote my energy to the realities of the 21st century world in which we live, where today’s youth constitute nearly 1.4 billion of the world’s population – the largest cohort ever. Young people need and deserve our support as they collect new memories and identify timely priorities about what really matters.
Glimpsing the future, a privilege I share daily with colleagues at Microsoft and in the technology industry overall, the rapid pace of change is remarkable. However, such shifts present tremendous opportunities. Microsoft’s recently launched YouthSpark initiative is a great example. This global initiative provides resources to help empower youth to imagine their full potential and connect to improved opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship. Ironically, similar concerns characterized the March on Washington which was, fundamentally, about jobs and freedom for all people. It’s a fact that unemployment in the U.S. and globally is incredibly high and the fiscal crisis facing many communities threatens freedoms often taken for granted.
In my career, community and family, I’m obsessed with the future. Indeed, as a mentor and philanthropy professional, I’m always seeking greater understanding and wisdom about ways to inspire creativity, imagination and innovation among youth and people of all ages. This follows directly in the footsteps of Dr. King’s legacy and President Obama’s message of hope and ability to forge a new American coalition that has given wings to his leadership and offered a model for public service to a new generation.
As we honor the inaugural tradition of our democracy, and the newer Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, we are all beneficiaries of a rich, complex history and eyewitnesses to a future ripe with possibilities for changing the world and living a purposeful life.
Andrea L. Taylor is director of Microsoft’s Citizenship & Public Affairs in the U.S. focusing on the YouthSpark initiative and working with nonprofit organizations across the country. She is a trustee of Boston University, her alma mater, New York Public Radio, and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
Content originally posted on Microsoft’s Corporate Citizenship Blog