Accelerating the Dream—Honoring Dr. King
Telisa Yancy, president of American Family Direct, reflects on what Martin Luther King Jr. Day means to her.
On Monday, a good portion of our nation and company will take a collective pause to celebrate the life and impact of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For some, MLK Day will be a day off, for others it will be a day of service — and for me, MLK Day has always started with revisiting the powerful impact that a single person can have on the lives of others.
Although I was barely born when Dr. King’s life was cut short at the unimaginably young age of 39, he’s had a significant impact on nearly every chapter of my life. As a child, well before anyone imagined a national holiday for the civil rights leader, my favorite teacher required that her entire fourth grade class memorize all 1,677 words of Dr. King’s iconic “I have a dream” speech from the 1963 March on Washington. As a teenager, I became obsessed with the notion that Dr. King was barely 26 years old when he led the Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama, a nonviolent, 381-day protest where Black men, women and children carpooled or walked rather than ride segregated buses, eventually leading to the Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional. As an older teenager, I participated in my first act of social activism when I joined Stevie Wonder’s quest to create a national holiday in honor of Dr. King’s short and extremely impactful life.
It has been said that the most powerful dreams are the ones we dream for other people, often with full knowledge that working for that dream may be of little value to oneself. And so it was with the dreams of Dr. King — the ultimate dreamer whose life continues to set the standard for what it means to dream the biggest and boldest dreams for humanity and for our country. It has also been said (by my dad) that actions are the proof in the pudding — and I remain awestruck as I consider the long list of sacrifices and impactful actions that Dr. King was able to make in his 39 years on this Earth. And I know that almost every opportunity and accomplishment of my life can be, in some way, attributed to the selfless actions of America’s most prolific dreamer.
So, that is why MLK Day has always been a day for me to dream bigger, imagine greater and perhaps start the hard work of creating something bigger than myself. Over the course of my adult years, I have volunteered in shelters, tutored at schools, visited the elderly or simply taken the day to rest and reflect. This year, I am reflecting on my favorite quote from Dr. King, which is, ironically not from the 1,667-word Dream speech, but from the earliest part of his life of service when he said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”
I am fortunate to be a part of a company that challenges me – and all our employees and agency owners – to do more, give more and serve more as we consider Dr. King’s incredible vision of a world that we each have a role in creating.
I’m proud of our long history of supporting communities and working to close equity gaps, including through partnerships and investments in social impact startups by the American Family Institute for Corporate and Social Impact and financial support through the American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation. Early last year we built on our already strong support by pledging to invest $105 million over the next five years to continue this work through our “Free to Dream” commitment.
Our company works to inspire people and support their dreams in a variety of ways. In early 2020, one way we did so was through a sponsorship of The March, TIME Studio’s immersive experience that brought Dr. King’s historic march on Washington to a whole new generation through virtual reality.
Our society has experienced robust challenges throughout the past couple of years. We are frayed. We’re at an inflection point where civil discourse is seemingly no longer the norm, but the exception. Where more and more of our history is questioned and criticized. Where hope may seem futile amidst the haze of trying to determine what is real and what is perceived as real.
I’m still convinced, though, that through all our trials, tribulations and challenges, there is opportunity to do as Dr. King so keenly demonstrated: acknowledge the reality and then work toward a higher vision and purpose of true equality, justice, and equal access to the opportunities promised by our founding fathers. To me, this optimism is born out of the spirit of Dr. King, which lives in the hearts and mind of people like me, and so many others, who continue to believe that these causes are not only worthwhile pursuits, but they are also achievable.
MLK Day is a day of great significance and meaning. It’s also the only holiday equally committed to reflection and impact. In many ways, the holiday’s existence is a promise of brighter days and better possibilities. It is born out of the ideal that the world – and the situation and circumstances in it – is not stagnant but, rather, capable of changing for the better through the actions of one person. If it is to be, it starts with us!
About the American Family Insurance group
Based in Madison, Wisconsin, American Family Insurance has been serving customers since 1927. We inspire, protect and restore dreams through our insurance products, exceptional service from our agency owners and employees, community investment and creative partnerships to address societal challenges. We act on our belief in diversity and inclusion by constantly evolving to meet customer needs and preferences. American Family Insurance group is the nation’s 13th-largest property/casualty insurance group, ranking No. 232 on the Fortune 500 list. The group sells American Family-brand products, primarily through exclusive agency owners in 19 states. The American Family Insurance group also includes CONNECT, powered by American Family Insurance, The General, Homesite and Main Street America Insurance. Across these companies the group has more than 13,500 employees nationwide.