Anselm Beach, senior advisor to the secretary of the Army for diversity and inclusion in Washington, D.C., provided the Martin Luther King Jr. Day message for the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth observance luncheon Jan. 12 at the Frontier Conference Center.
“We remember Dr. King as the preeminent advocate of nonviolence and the leader of the Civil Rights Movement,” Beach said. “We could ask a lot of ‘whys,’(about King’s and others’ involvement in the Civil Rights Movement), and we could also say Dr. King was a great American, and he did a great job for the time that he was needed to do this job to awaken the consciousness of the nation to tackle some of these big issues that we had at that time.”
Observances like Martin Luther King Jr. Day are important, Beach said, “because there is so much that we can learn as each generation faces more complex problems; we need greater capability to be able to solve those complex problems. So civil rights may have been the challenge of the day that Dr. King faced, but it could be that civil rights from that time may have an impact on some of the challenges that we face today, and if we fail to examine what those are, or those were, we may miss opportunities to face the challenges that we have in the future.”
Beach said King is known for being a great orator, theologian and preacher, but he said he thinks King may have also wanted to be a soldier, having been a man of service who was skilled in leadership as well as improvisation. Beach said that part of King’s lasting legacy are the more than 2,500 speeches and sermons he gave in his lifetime. Beach said that King was skilled in improvisation, having delivered many of those speeches without a script or notes.
“When I say Dr. King really wanted to be a soldier, I reflect on my days as a noncommissioned officer and what we would say, like ‘Leaders eat last.’”
Beach said his favorite King work is his sermon on the destructive forces of the “drum major instinct” — the desire to be first. He said King’s message was that there is nothing wrong with being first, but priorities should be reordered for what people should be doing first.
“So, based on the circumstances that we face now, let’s be first to love, let’s be first to care,” Beach said of the paradigm shift King asked for in times of injustice, knowing hate could be a destructive force and make things worse.
Leadership in the 21st century, with evolving and devolving communication, has its own challenges, Beach said, and it can be difficult to know how to effectively engage with people.
“Dr. King also had to deal with leading in the complexity of that day. How do you get people together? How do you reach disadvantaged people who may have had no money to come to the places where Dr. King was? How do you communicate those messages?” Beach asked. “Dr. King was very present. He was always where the challenges were.”
Beach said King’s example of leadership could be applied by current leaders.
“There were some fundamental principles that I think Dr. King applied and that’s why so many people followed him, so many people believed in the cause that he set up because he led by example on all these different things,” Beach said. “I think those are fundamental tenants that we could think through as we face the challenges across our formations right now about how we lead, how we show up and how are we present in today’s very complex operating environment.”
Beach said diversity and inclusion should be thought of as a framework to optimize talent and build cohesive teams.
“It’s not just about the representation of different people — that’s important, but in a dangerous world with a lot of complex problem-solving, we need different people looking at different issues in different ways to come up with creative solutions. Other than that, we’re going to have half-baked solutions to big and complex problems, and we may create an answer that may create another problem someplace else.”
Beach said King’s messages, particularly what affects one affects all, still resonate.
“As we think about geopolitical issues, as we think through where we are as an Army as we are competing with other services for the talent that we need to keep our Army going, tools of diversity, equity and inclusion are really some of the answers that we need to make sure we can get the workforce that we need for the fight of the future.”