Friday, February 18, 2011

"Parading the Dream of Diversity" by Cheryl Robinson

American Airlines

HR Messenger
Cheryl Robinson
I traveled to Tulsa, Okla., with an assignment to cover the city's legendary Martin Luther King Day Parade; an annual tradition for our Tulsa Airport and Base Maintenance employees.

I was all set to write about the Business of Diversity, but after spending time with our colleagues who worked to make sure AA was well represented in the parade, I'm compelled to tell you about the Diversity of a Dream. I never imagined how many stories this single event would unfold, including the surprising American Airlines connection.

On the day of the parade the temperature hovered around 35 degrees. Thank God, there was no snow. Growing up in Buffalo, New York, I've trudged through the cold and snow before for less worthy causes. But this time I couldn't help but think of the obstacles those before me trudged through to get here. My journey consisted of a 45-minute American Airlines flight. The flight of generations before consisted of marches, protest and death, in hopes an African-American woman, like myself, can stand here today representing an airline aptly called American.

The MLK Society selected "Honoring our Heritage and Inspiring Change" for this year's parade theme. The American Airlines float featured pictures of several past and present African American inventors, writers, musicians, entertainers canvassed on a beautifully decorated U.S. flag. Then came the booming voice over the loud speaker of Dr. King reciting his moving, "I Have a Dream" speech. As I surveyed the crowd of on-lookers and participants, a rainbow of races, colors, ethnicities, gender, religion, life situations and generations, I realized this was the diversity dream Dr. King talked about. These were the dream weavers.

Honoring Our Heritage and Inspiring Change
- see how Tulsa employees carry the message each year in the city's annual MLK Day parade
When we rounded the street corner there was one particular on-looker that stood out. As the float passed by I saw an elderly woman overcome with emotion, sobbing uncontrollably, oblivious to her own spectators, nor did she care. I could feel her pain, her sorrow and the joy that lay beneath. Her presence was so intensely moving that I clutched my heart. Instinctively, I knew this was no ordinary parade reveler. She was here because she was a dream maker. She represented my father, my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandfather, my teacher and so many more. Anyone who helped me achieve my present reality.

In this rare moment, I got it. Yet, in the telling words of my friend and colleague who just happens to be Caucasian commenting on the civil rights struggle, "I get it, I may not get it like you get it, but I get it ?" The same honest sentiment owed to all "I Have a Dream" visionaries.

Sadly, Dr. King died with his dream in his heart. He was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, at the age of 39. I recently learned that American Airlines transported the remains of Dr. King home in the passenger cabin of a Lockheed Electra. I take pride in knowing that I am a product of a dreamer. Also, I'm proud to say that I am an American Airlines employee.

Maybe American Airlines is not a perfect airline, nor are we perfect employees. But what AA represents is the business of being American, and extending that to our global environment, a citizen of the world.

A place where not only dreams of diversity come true, but futures do too.

By Cheryl Robinson