ORG Blog

Civil Rights Movement Reveals Key to Sustainable Change

Recently, I had the pleasure of being a guest lecturer at the New York University Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service for a graduate study course on Labor Management Cooperation. My host was Arthur Matthews, an accomplished mediator, arbitrator and adjunct professor at NYU, Cornell and the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas. A colleague of Howard’s, Kathy Drew-King also served as a guest lecturer for the course. Kathy is a Regional Attorney for the NLRB office serving the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island in the City of New York, and Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

A far more revealing bit of biographical information about Arthur and Kathy is that they earned their Doctor of Jurisprudence degrees from the famous Howard University School of Law, the most instrumental educational institution in the civil rights movement. Included among the notable alumni of the university are civil rights activists – Stokely Carmichael and Vernon Jordan; the first African-American Justice of the Supreme Court – Thurgood Marshall; former congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations and Mayor of Atlanta – Andrew Young; and Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning novelist – Toni Morrison.

Students at the Howard School of Law were trained in an environment that gave special attention to what is required to successfully, legally and sustainably advance a cause as counterculture as civil rights. As Kathy shared about her work with NLRB and the ongoing influence her time at Howard has had on her approach, one concept emerged as seminal – No significant change in societal mores has ever occurred unless someone did the hard work of first carefully laying the groundwork.

It’s a truism that everyone involved in change work intuitively knows. Yet as change agents, often it is so much easier to expend our creative energy complaining about the resistance that people and institutions mount when their basic underlying beliefs are challenged; rather than doing the hard work of paving a path that enables them to genuinely change their beliefs and the behaviors those beliefs drive.

Just being in the room with Arthur and Kathy challenged me to make better more productive use of my own change energy by choosing to do the hard, path paving work that is required if as change agents we intend to truly enable organizational leaders to lead their companies, unions, and other institutions to achieve sustainable advances.

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Topics: Collaboration Labor Management Leadership Sustainable Change