I recently returned from the WBENC conference in Atlanta, an opportunity for certified women business owners to meet with corporate buyers. On Tuesday, Bernice King, the youngest daughter of the late Martin Luther King, Jr., was our keynote luncheon speaker. King, a minister who holds a master of divinity degree and a doctorate of law degree from Emory University and an honorary doctorate of divinity degree from Wesley College, is internationally recognized as a powerful and motivating speaker.
She challenged women to continue to be the champion for change in the workplace and our larger society. She declared that we are not in the midst of the “Year of the Woman,” or even the “Decade of the Woman.” Rather, she champions that we are living in the “Century of the Woman.” And, she asserted, women who are in positions of leadership have to position ourselves to push through the change that women can bring.
She said that although women in business have made progress, the reality is that our progress cannot stop. She told us that her mother, Coretta Scott King, used to remind that freedom is not ever really won—you earn it and win it again in every generation. Now, she says, women in business are earning and winning their freedom.
Her mother, who raised $8 billion to build the King Center, had naysayers and critics every step of the way. But she refused to pause, refused to engage her detractors. She allowed the power of her mission to transcend the power of her emotions.
Although King’s remarks were largely directed at women (after all, she was speaking at a conference for women), anyone who is in buisness can apply them. In fact, they have implications that far exceed a busienss environment. Her words contain principles we can all live by, and in so doing, change ourselves and change society.
Here are the main principles Bernice King shared about her mother that we can learn from as business owners:
Coretta Scott King knew “it” was about the next generation; it was about the people. We must restore ethics to the business world. We’ve become a “thing” society rather than a “people” society. Although “things” are fundamental to running a business, people must still be first.
Her mother mentored, prepared and role modeled others. Bernice King challenged us that we are all in a position to do the same. She also reminded us that as women business owners, others model us, so we must not compromise our ethics. Noting that her mother was not threatened for others to be benefactors, she asked us not to forget that the reason we are here is to nurture others as we grow in our own success.
Her mother could build multi-faceted coalitions. People don’t at first follow worthy causes; they follow worthy leaders who authenticity they believe in.
Her mother kept first things first. Here, Bernice King was speaking about balancing work, profession and family. We can’t sacrifice our kids for the sake of doing business. Women, Bernice King said, must be the ones to demand respect for family time.
She closed with this lesson about the one law of the universe:
There were two kingdoms. In the first kingdom, a visitor saw a banquet feast—chicken and enchiladas and prawns and fruits and fried rice—foods of all kinds teaming from trays everywhere. But the people there were bound and unhappy. They did not know the one law of the universe.
In the second kingdom, the visitor witnessed the same banquet feast. But the people there were happy and there was forward progress. That’s because they understood the one law of the universe.
What is the one law of the universe?
You must use the utensils provided by the management.
You see, in both kingdoms, the utensils were 10 feet long. In the first kingdom, the people kept trying to feed themselves but they couldn’t manage the utensils on their own and so they were starving to death.
But in the second kingdom, the citizens reached across the table and fed each other.
It’s about reaching across the table. In business we are part of a community. We can reach across the table, we can reach across fear and across biases. When we reach across the table and feed each other, that is ultimately what will lead us to achieve the mandate and the mission that’s in our hearts.