Listening to the voices of our Black co-workers on a very different MLK day.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is traditionally a time to reflect on a hopeful, inclusive vision, mark the progress we’ve made toward a more just society, and offer service to bring the dream to life.
Obviously, this MLK day is a little different.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had more than a little experience with events and emotions like the ones we’re experiencing today, which is why we wanted to take a moment to stop and listen to the voices of some of our Black employees. To learn how they’re feeling, hear what they’re experiencing, and get a few insights on how we can all keep working toward a more perfect union. We sat down with four different RingCentral employees and heard what they had to say.
Yordanos Ayele: Global Enterprise Engineer — RingCentral Denver
Gene Horne: Enterprise Support Manager — RingCentral Denver
Briana Rogers: Professional Services Project Manager — RingCentral Charlotte
Carlin Thomas: Junior Billing Analyst — RingCentral Charlotte
RC: “Normally, this would be a pretty typical interview, where we might ask you: “How are you celebrating MLK Day?” But this is anything but a normal MLK Day. So what we really want to know is – how are you?”
BR: “I think I feel just kind of a bit numb, but honestly not too surprised by the events of this week. I wish I were. It’s painful to see events like this, but it’s not surprising. I still continue to be a person who leans on my faith, so I’m still trying to be hopeful and just continuing to pray that there has to be a way out of this. As long as we continue to come together, we’ll find one.”
GH: “I’m a single father of two daughters, and helping them out has been my focus. That’s taken some conversation, and that’s been my priority— to talk with them, help them stay calm and not get too wrapped up.”
YA: “Not so great, honestly. COVID hasn’t made this the best time mental health-wise, and with all of this political stuff added on, it kind of feels hopeless— not gonna lie to you.”
CT: “This is definitely not a normal Martin Luther King Day. I don’t think we’ve had a normal day in our everyday lives since March of last year given what we’re accustomed to. But, me, I’m doing fine. I’m happy to be here and happy to be a part of this conversation we’re having.”
RC: “So how are you incorporating Dr. King’s ideals into MLK Day, and into life in general now?”
CT: “I decided this is a good time to focus my attention on my younger brothers, because I noticed last year while everything was going on that they felt a little bit disconnected from the events that were happening, just because they’re so young. And I think that this Martin Luther King Day is a good opportunity to maybe watch some films and really discuss why people marched and fought for our rights back then and why they’re still marching and fighting right now. During my upbringing I was constantly reminded of the efforts of our predecessors and how they fought for the rights we have today. So, just to pass that knowledge down to my siblings and make sure that they’re aware of Black history is important to me”
GH: “I grew up in Memphis – I was in my teens when Dr. King was assassinated. And I’ve spent a lot of time reading books like James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Elie Wiesel’s Night and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. And I continually ask myself the question — why? Why do we hate based on the color of our skin? These books help me understand the background of these things a little better but…I don’t get it. What I do get are Dr. King’s ideals – and I just try every day to live up to them. MLK Day will be a little more thoughtful, but not fundamentally different. I try to understand people within the context of Dr. King’s ideals every day.”
BR: I’m certainly proud to celebrate MLK Day, and celebrate Dr King and his life on this holiday and throughout the year. I continue, as my parents taught me, to use it as an opportunity to celebrate our advancements, teach my children, volunteer and then also reflect on where I am in my journey to try to live up to Dr. King’s standards.
RC: “What do you wish your fellow employees knew about the Black experience right now?”
YA: “When Black people speak up, we often hear Dr. King’s words thrown back in our faces – as if mentioning inequality flies in the face of the unity he espoused. Yes, we should have unity, but that doesn’t mean we should be silent in the face of injustice. Things are still happening, and just because Dr. King made a great speech doesn’t mean racism ended that day. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
BR: Imagine working in a space with an elephant and everyone acts as if they don’t see it or acknowledge it. If you expose or push against the elephant you are called aggressive. So you get tired of saying excuse me, I can’t see because of the elephant so you learn to cope by jumping high over the it, you learn to crawl between its legs or sit behind your neighbor so you can look and speak over their shoulder. Finally when someone else walks in and says…’hey guys why don’t we put the elephant out it’s starting to stink.’ Everyone then says oh yeah…’I hadn’t noticed that elephant…huh?’
Picture this elephant as racism and inequality and that is a little bit of the black experience in corporate america.
CT: “I think the most important thing is to just explore and educate yourself. Take accountability, when it comes to being aware of Black history, and the struggles that Black citizens went through back then and now. I think that awareness is the minimum that you can ask for, and it’s a good starting point in general, towards making a change in society for the better. Just make yourself a little bit more aware of the Black experience—whether it’s reading a book, watching a film…I think that’d be a good starting point for everyone”
RC: “RingCentral puts a lot of effort into diversity and inclusion. Is this a work environment that lives up to Dr. King’s ideals?”
GH: “I don’t think I’ve drank the corporate Kool Aid. But at the same time, I am so proud of this company and its leadership, because they had the foresight to look and say, this is a problem in society, and we’re going do something about it, not just talk about it. You can actually see the effort, coming from the top. (RingCentral President and COO) Anand (Esarwan) writes these emails…they’re real. He touches me every time he mentions the subject. When the BLM movement began, RingCentral helped us set up an employee resource group – a chatroom where we can talk to each other, and things like that are totally open and sanctioned by our leadership. Leadership is not just posturing —they’re serious about inclusion and diversity, and having your opinions heard. As long as you’re courteous and respectful, you can have your voice heard here, whether it’s a work topic or a life topic. That matters. This company has definitely stepped forward, and I am so proud to be a part of it.
YA: “I think the company’s done great. I didn’t know there was a Black Lives Matter group and I got added to it and then the company announced that Juneteenth as a company holiday — I was so impressed by that. I’m still pretty young so I don’t have a huge frame of reference to compare my experience to, but I feel like RingCentral has done more than most companies would.”
CT: “I’ve seen RingCentral step up in a genuine way. I feel like it was kind of hard to tell where the true intent was with other companies – are they just saying the right things? But with RingCentral, I could truly feel that sense of, you know, your voice matters and we’re here for you. The help was real, and it was felt, and from my viewpoint on the inside I could tell it was sincere and honest.”
BR: “I’ve been encouraged by the outpouring of support from the company and my peers. I appreciate the opportunity to dialogue, listen and learn from each other”
RC: “We’re here to listen to Black employees right now. Is there anything you wish we’d asked, or anything you just want to share that we’ve missed?”
BR: “I think it’s unfortunate we’re still dealing with the same issues around inequality and justice. I find it unfortunate that we just take one day to think about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his ideals or just one month to talk about Black history, because I feel like Black history is not just one moment of time. But still, I am glad that we do take an opportunity to pause, and remember, and hopefully look forward and collectively stand up for equality and justice in our lives every day.”
GH: “One of the lines in MLK’s “Dream” speech talked about a worldwhere we don’t judge each other by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. That ideal is so strong to me you, you know, what a wonderful place it would be if we didn’t even think about it, where the only reason your color matters to me is if I have to describe you to someone else. It’s how we interface with one another that’s important.”
YA: “I hope people can get a better, truer sense of what Martin Luther King was about because it’s not just, “oh he made a speech and solved everything peacefully.” He was a radical. He stood up for justice and stood up against the Vietnam war in ways the government considered a threat. People tend not to focus on that part of MLK’s story because it doesn’t fit neatly into their narrative, but it’s an important part of the story, and one people should take some time to learn about.”
CT: “ During my upbringing I was constantly reminded of the efforts of our predecessors and how they fought for the rights we have today. I’m humbled everyday at the thought of how hard Martin Luther King Jr. and countless others had to work and fight for our equality. This year I’m focusing on passing that knowledge down to my siblings and making sure they’re aware of Black history and its importance. I think that philosophy of awareness applies beyond my family and should apply to everyone’s, so the ideas and beliefs of people like Martin Luther King Jr. remain in our society and are applied to future generations. ”
From COVID-19 to Breonna Taylor and George Floyd to the events of January 6th, we’ve all had to endure the unendurable. Seen and heard things we wish we had never seen and heard. And struggled to find answers where there don’t seem to be any. The way forward won’t be easy. But it’s good to be a part of a company whose sole mission is to connect humans to one another. We’ll keep listening, learning, and above all, #workingtogether.
Originally published Jan 20, 2021, updated Apr 27, 2021