Dr. King & Civil Rights: How Walmart, AT&T & More Keep It Relevant

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a time to observe civil-rights milestones and reflect on next steps. What best practices do top companies use to align this holiday with diversity-management strategies And how important is it to make the day a holiday

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which falls on the third Monday of January, is a federal holiday around the time of Dr. King’s Jan. 15 birthday. It was declared a federal holiday in 1986 and is now observed in all 50 states, with South Carolina the last to adopt it, in 2000. According to the Bureau of National Statistics, about a third of private employers now give employees the day off. A questionnaire sent to the 587 participants in the DiversityInc Top 50 survey found that 61 percent close their officesand all but two of the companies on the DiversityInc Top 50 list are closed.

  • 96 percent of the companies in the survey observe the holiday in some way.
  • 65 percent of the companies that close also plan additional events and volunteer efforts for employees.
  • 91 percent of the participants that stay open plan additional events and volunteer efforts for employees.

In addition to office closures, the responses show that companies rely on four strategies to commemorate MLK Day: Volunteerism, Resource Groups, Events and Corporate Communications. Below, we share best practices from more than 20 companies.


Forty percent of the companies we surveyed encourage employees to utilize the holiday as a day of service and volunteerism. Several companies, including Kaiser Permanente (No. 3 in the DiversityInc Top 50), Marriott International (No. 21) and Accenture (No. 12), give employees the day off to serve nonprofits aimed at underrepresented groups in their communities through a call to action for the National Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

  • “For the ninth consecutive year, Kaiser Permanente is proud to participate in the National Day of Service in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On this day, thousands of Kaiser Permanente employees and physicians will step out of lab coats and suits and into painting caps and tool belts, rolling up their sleeves in community service to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and his commitment to improving lives through dedicated service. Last year, employees broke records with more than 7,000 volunteers, including physicians and senior leaders, a 10 percent increase from the previous year. Volunteer activities took place at over 130 sites across the country, serving an estimated 35,000 people.” Rosalind Padilla, Senior Project Manager, Workforce Diversity, National Diversity, Kaiser Permanente

  • “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day of Service has become an annual call to action for volunteers across the country to get involved in meaningful community service. In this spirit of celebration, Accenture people in Detroit and Washington, D.C., will take time to give back by participating in local MLK Day events in January 2013. Accenture’s Carolinas African American employee resource group in Charlotte will be joining with the Charlotte Experienced Hire employee resource group to serve the Charlotte community through the Habitat for Humanity MLK Day Build project. Accenture volunteers in the Miami office are invited to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy and participate in various service activities. Volunteer groups will also be participating in landscaping, mural painting and gardening projects to help beautify the school grounds.” Stacey Jones, Senior Director, Corporate Marketing, Accenture
  • Marriott International honors the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in many ways. We host ongoing volunteer activities in various geographical regions where associates can serve as volunteers.” Maruiel Perkins-Chavis, Vice President, Workforce Effectiveness & Diversity, Marriott International
  • “At Walmart, Dr. King’s message aligns with our company’s three basic beliefs: respect for the individual, service to our customer, and striving for excellence. 2013 will mark Walmart’s 17th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. In addition to a home-office program where Mayor Dennis, the Honorable Alexis Herman and Tavis Smiley have served as guest speakers, the company has also collaborated with community-based organizations and school districts in community programs. The company also has a Day of Service project that encourages our associates to give back to our community.As Dr. King represented a lifetime of service, Walmart is committed to serve our associates and our customers.” Donald Fan, Senior Director, Global Office of Diversity, Walmart

  • Altria encourages our employees to use Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service volunteering in honor of Rev. King. We sent a communication that went out to our company employees letting them know how they could get involved: Make It a Day On, Not a Day Off. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service (MLK Day) marks the beginning of the year of service as millions of Americans honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by volunteering in their communities. The Altria Volunteers program is one of the cornerstones of ‘Contributing Together,’ giving employees the opportunity to get involved in their community by participating in volunteer events. In support of our volunteer program, Altria Group and its companies have partnered with the HandsOn Network to positively impact local communities nationwide while simultaneously promoting strong corporate citizenship and employee-engagement goals.” Nancy Adams, Senior Manager Diversity / AAP / HR Client Services, Altria Client Services
  • “Last year, as in previous years, Harland Clarke has encouraged our employees to take on the true spirit of Martin Luther King Day by serving the community. Rather than taking the day ‘off,’ our employees take a day ‘on’ of service.” Stacy Franklin, Vice President of Human Resources, Diversity and Workforce Performance, Harland Clarke
  • Independence Blue Cross‘s corporate volunteerism group, the Blue Crew, participates in the Martin Luther King Day of Service.” John F. Clayton Jr., Manager, Diversity, Inclusion & Workforce Initiatives, Independence Blue Cross

Resource Groups

Thirty percent of companies’ Black resource groups take the lead in planning celebrations, events and communications to promote Dr. King’s message of inclusion to all employees. The resource groups frequently volunteer within their communities as well.

  • “Some of Ernst & Young‘s Black Professional Networks (BPN) have convened client events in honor of Black History Month. For example, our West Sub-Area BPN co-hosted a ‘Black History Month Executive Roundtable’ last year with the Kaiser Permanente African-American Professional Association. The event featured a panel moderated by Tony Kendall (Chairman and CEO, Mitchell & Titus, LLP) and panelists from Gilead Sciences, Kaiser Permanente, Onyx Pharmaceuticals, AAA Northern California, Textainer Group and CBS Interactive. … Our Boston office BPN held its second annual Black History Month celebration last year, where it recognized members and champions alike for their involvement and support.” Emily Lobel Kameros, Associate Director, Inclusiveness, Americas People Team, Ernst & Young (No. 6 on the DiversityInc Top 50)
  • “This year, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield‘s African-American affinity group, Enlightenment and Empowerment Enterprise, had invited the League of Women Voters of New Jersey to participate in our celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.They showcased their organization by distributing literature informing our employees about the importance of registering to vote as well as how they can get involved in the voter-registration drive. Bookmarks, which contained a reprint of one of Dr. King’s speeches, were also distributed to our employees. In addition to our affinity group’s luncheon, we run excerpts of several of Dr. King’s videoed speeches as well as various quotes and historical facts regarding Dr. King on our internal television monitors during that time as well.” Alison Banks-Moore, Chief Diversity Officer, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (one of DiversityInc’s Top 10 Regional Companies)
  • Accenture’s Detroit African American employee-resource group will convene for an interactive panel discussion entitled ‘Living the Dream … the Accenture Way’ to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy and how diverse workplaces like Accenture, and our clients, are providing an inclusive environment and what things can be done as we continue to move forward. In coordination with the event, Accenture employees will host a canned-goods drive to collect nonperishable foods that will be donated to Detroit-based Capuchin Soup Kitchen. … Accenture’s African-American employee-resource group in Philadelphia will work with the YWCA for a day of workshops and mentoring.” Stacey Jones, Senior Director, Corporate Marketing, Accenture
  • AT&T’s African American resource groupCommunity NETworkparticipates in several January events across the nation: The Connecticut chapter sponsors a bus trip to the Presidential Inauguration and reflects on Martin Luther King Jr.’s life too as we pay tribute to President Barack Obama’s being elected to a second term in office; the Detroit chapter’s MLK Oratorical Program will have singing and liturgical dance, featuring 10 students reciting the ‘I Have a Dream Speech‘; Chicago and Charlotte chapters will participate in A Day of Service, honoring Martin Luther King Jr.; and San Antonio chapters are the major sponsors of the largest MLK parade in the nation. We expect to have close to 100 employees marching in the parade. Also, the Oklahoma City Community NETwork chapter will participate in its local, Oklahoma City MLK parade.” Forrest Parrott, Executive Director Internal Communications, AT&T(No. 4 on the DiversityInc Top 50)
  • “Each year, H.O.N.O.R. (Helping Our Neighbors With Our Resources) and the A.A.L.C. (African American Leadership Council), two of Johnson & Johnson’s enterprise-wide resource groups, celebrate the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This annual ceremony, now in its 35th year, also serves as a means to honor members of the Johnson & Johnson companies and the local community who have inspired and demonstrated a passion for others through caring and service.” Anthony Carter, Vice President, Global Diversity & Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, Johnson & Johnson (No. 11 on the DiversityInc Top 50)
  • “IMPACT, Humana‘s African-American Network Resource Group, coordinated an ‘Impact Day’ for Humana associates to give a day of service to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Members from all five of our Network Resource Groups volunteered at the following nonprofit organizations: Newburg Boys & Girls Club, Christian Care Community Rehabilitation Center and ElderServe. Kai Vaughn, Inclusion & Diversity Consultant, Humana
  • “Our resource groups take the opportunity to educate Kellogg employees about Dr. King’s work via communications, newsletters, etc.” Mark King, Chief Diversity Officer, Kellogg(No. 49 on the DiversityInc Top 50)
  • Progressive‘s African American resource group PAAN plans a celebration for those who are working through a process we call ‘Celebration in a Box,’ which allows various groups using several formats to celebrate the occasion.” Neil Lenane, Director of Employee Experience, Progressive Insurance

Special Dr. King & Black History Events

Almost 30 percent of companies host corporate events with guest speakers to discuss the significance of Dr. Martin Luther King, civil rights, diversity and inclusion, and Black History Month.

  • Wells Fargo buys local and national print-media advertising as well as radio spots to honor the life of Dr. King. A number of regions participate in MLK Day parades, breakfasts and other volunteer activities to support the communities where our team members live and work. In 2012, Wells Fargo served as the official financial-services-sector sponsor of the premiere of the George Lucas film Red Tails. With a special connection to the Tuskegee Airmen, Wells Fargo honored two of its retired Wells Fargo team members, Colonel George S. Roberts and Lieutenant James Walker.” Jimmie Paschall, Executive Vice President, Enterprise Diversity & Inclusion, Wells Fargo, No. 33 on the DiversityInc Top 50
  • “The North ShoreLIJ Health System has held an annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Program honoring Dr. King for the past 42 years. This year’s theme is ‘Living the Dream the Next Generation.’ The program, hosted by the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Health Literacy, is held in the auditorium of one of our larger hospitals and is also telecast to all of our sites (15 hospitals) through the Health System’s videoconferencing network. This year’s keynote speaker for the 43rd annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Program will be John Quiones, Emmy Awardwinning co-anchor of ABC’s Primetime and sole anchor of the series What Would You Do We also sponsor a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Creative Arts Contest for the children of our employees. The winners are presented with prizes at the event.” Barbara Felker, Vice President, Community and External Affairs, North ShoreLong Island Jewish Health System
  • “We start our branded Black History Month celebration”AT&T 28 Days”every year on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s a six-week program with TV, radio, digital integration and live events in seven markets. This year, we will begin in Chicago on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We also have an annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration luncheon in Atlanta with prominent speakers that is open to the members of our 11 resource groups.” Forrest Parrott, Executive Director – Internal Communications, AT&T
  • “In 2012, Kellogg commemorated Dr. King’s legacy by being a sponsor of the Rainbow PUSH’s annual MLK Scholarship Breakfast in Chicago.”Mark King, Chief Diversity Officer, Kellogg
  • Army and Airforce Exchange Service always has an official program during commemoration week with a guest speaker and display posters. Our guest speaker is Theron Bowman, Ph.D., Deputy City Manager, former Chief of Police, Arlington, Texas; Consultant, Nation Builder, Police Practices Expert, and Entrepreneur.” Carlyn Houston, EEO Programs Specialist, EEO Diversity and Inclusion, Army and Airforce Exchange Service

Internal Office Communications

Approximately 21 percent of companies send messaging via emails, newsletters and/or corporate intranets to communicate the relevance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day to employees. Some companies, including Ernst & Young, pair these efforts with messaging about Black History Month as well.

  • Comcast and NBCUniversal have changed the homepage of our new corporate website to feature a compelling 1965 Meet The Press interview with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. During the interview, Dr. King discusses the march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., to help raise awareness of the difficulty faced by black voters in the South and the need for a Voting Rights Act, which passed later that year. Additional historic photos and videos from NBC News’ coverage of the civil-rights movement can be found within the story. Please share this link to help share an important piece of American history.” Katie Lubenow, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications, Comcast (one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies)
  • Ernst & Young‘s local offices/regions (and their associated BPNs) do a variety of communications in recognition of Black History Month. For example, last year our McLean BPN ran a series of profiles of black leaders. In addition, they ran a giveaway with complimentary tickets to see Red Tails, the movie based on the real-life heroics of the Tuskegee Airmen.” Emily Lobel Kameros, Associate Director, Inclusiveness, Americas People Team, Ernst & Young
  • Marriott disseminates communications to our associates that advises them of local community-service opportunities, events and celebrations they can participate in to celebrate of this day of service.” Maruiel Perkins-Chavis, Vice President, Workforce Effectiveness & Diversity, Marriott International
  • Humana produces an all-associate communication that informs associates of the work of Dr. MLK Jr. and how we at Humana can pay tribute through community service.” Kai Vaughn, Inclusion & Diversity Consultant, Humana
  • Deloitte shares messages on our intranet and leaders send messages to their teams about the importance of remembering Dr. King.” Wendy Berk, Senior Manager, Inclusion, Marketing and Communications, Deloitte(No. 8 in the DiversityInc Top 50)
  • “Celebrations of Black history held during the month of February have, from time to time, commemorated the life and work of Dr. King. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois plans to post a tribute to Dr. King on our intranet site this year.” Carolyn Clift, Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, Health Care Service Corporation (No. 19 in the DiversityInc Top 50), which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois
  • McGraw-Hill proudly recognizes MLK Day as an official holiday and the offices are closed. We generally post an article or commentary on our intranet site.” Terri D. Austin, Chief Diversity Officer, The McGraw-Hill Companies (one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies)

Additional Recognition & Charity Contributions

  • “This year will be our 21st Peoria-local luncheon. Caterpillar was the first company to sponsor the luncheon financially. This year, we have Condoleezza Rice as our guest speaker and Caterpillar has not only generously provided financial contribution, but has two tables and is flying Dr. Rice into Peoria on the corporate jet.” Alma Brown, Communications Representative, Caterpillar Inc.
  • “The majority of Johnson & Johnson‘s contribution efforts go toward the Frank R. Steele Scholarship Fund, set up by the H.O.N.O.R organization in 1984, that provides financial assistance through the Middlesex County College Foundation to African-American students studying for degrees in Business Administration and Science.” Anthony Carter, Vice President, Global Diversity & Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, Johnson & Johnson
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois celebrates Martin Luther King Day as a corporate holiday. All employees get the day off. Our Illinois headquarters building is illuminated on Martin Luther King Day with MLK [across the faade].” Carolyn Clift, Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, Health Care Service Corporation
  • “In Bentonville, Ark., Walmart sponsored the essay contest for local sixth graders where students reflected on Dr. King’s message of equality and discussed how they were living Dr. King’s dream.” Donald Fan, Senior Director, Global Office of Diversity, Walmart

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