Why We Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day & What It Means to Zeeland
By Amanda Hanson, HMPL Director
2023 will see the first time the City of Zeeland will recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an official holiday and close government offices. The employee representatives on the DEI Workgroup for the City of Zeeland wanted to take this opportunity to explain why we proposed this change and what it means with respect to our overall goals and commitments to increase cultural awareness and remove implicit bias across our City’s workforce.
The DEI Workgroup, or Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Workgroup, was established in the Fall of 2021 as a direct result of City and BPW administrators’ experience participating in the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) program in their Learning Communities of Practice (LCoP) sponsored by Ottawa County and the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance. Through the GARE LCoP initiatives, best practices for advancing and operationalizing racial equity efforts in community governments were identified. In response to these findings, the City and BPW Management team recommended that a DEI Workgroup be established for the City of Zeeland to address racial equity and ending implicit bias within the City of Zeeland government and utility operations.
The City’s DEI Workgroup is comprised of staff from different City and BPW departments who meet monthly to discuss plans for future DEI initiatives for City employees. The first action taken by the DEI Workgroup was to administer an anonymous staff survey which revealed City staff concerns in DEI to be focused on receiving more training and education in DEI topics and practices and increased employee awareness about access to services, especially interpretation and translation needs, to all staff and customers with limited English abilities.
The second action taken by the DEI Workgroup was the development of a vision statement for the group to help guide our actions. This statement is as follows: The City of Zeeland chooses to continually advance equity and incorporate it as a core value. We will be a vibrant, safe, and healthy workplace where all people can thrive. We will proactively engage and understand backgrounds and perspectives across all human differences.
The DEI Workgroup has initiated changes that have been instituted in different City departments to address the concerns highlighted in the staff survey and continues to work towards creating a fair and equitable work environment for all employees. One of the changes initiated by the Workgroup was the request for City Management and City Council to consider recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an official holiday where City government services are closed out of respect for the meaning of this day. MLK Jr. is considered one of the most influential African-American civil rights leaders throughout history and he was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act on 1964. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964 for his efforts. After his assassination in 1968, a call for instituting a national holiday in his honor were made, but legislation to officially recognize MLK Jr. Day as a federal holiday did not occur until 1983.
The DEI Workgroup recommended that the City of Zeeland adopt Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an official holiday where offices are closed because we feel the original messages and principles that Martin Luther King Jr. stood for are worthy of our reflection today
We want to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s accomplishments in the furtherance of equity for all people of color in society. We also want to recognize that this is a holiday designated as a national day of service and a call to volunteerism.
We encourage all employees to not only see this holiday as a day off from work, but to actively reflect on the what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for and what you can do to better the communities in which you both live and work.
For more information on Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement, or implicit bias awareness, see the list of electronic and print resources below.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. changed the course of history and inspired us to build what he called "the beloved community." This King Legacy of Service video tells the story of how Dr. King's birthday evolved into a national day of service. Featuring civil rights luminaries such as Congressman John Lewis, Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery, and Ruby Bridges, the 7-minute video reminds us of the importance of keeping Dr. King's legacy of service alive and challenges us to make service a part of our lives - every day of the year.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King, Call #: BIO 920 King
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King, Call #: 920 KIN
A Call to Conscience by Martin Luther King, Jr., Call #: 323.092 King
The Civil Rights Movement
The Civil Rights Movement, by Steven Kasher, Call #: 323.1196 KAS
The History of the Civil Rights Movement, by Dan Peel, Call #: 323.1196 HIS
Alabama V. King: Martin Luther King, Jr and the Criminal Trial That Launched the Civil Rights Movement, by Dan Abrams, Call #: 323.092
Implicit Bias and DEI
Finding Your Blind Spots, by Hedreich Nichols, Call #: 371.144 NIC
Race on the Brain, by Jonathan Kah, Call #: 364.3 KAH