Lessons from MLK and the Influence of our Dollars

(I am proud to introduce my 23 year old son Caleb as the guest blogger of this post! I love his reflections on how the methods of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement can be applied to responsible investment issues.)

There isn’t a day that passes without hearing of something wrong with our planet. We hear scary things like “global warming” or “GMOs” or “human trafficking”! It can seem overwhelming at times; as if someone pretty unremarkable like me could actually DO something about it. It is easy to get discouraged, but in truth, there is something we can do and are actually doing every day. My friends, we are voting with our dollar bills.

These days there is a lot of cynical talk, but here in the US we are still incredibly privileged. Our economy is at the top of the world and our influence is still felt throughout the globe. At the root of it all is the average American consumer. That’s you and me folks. In small ways everyday, we prove what we care about by how we spend our hard-earned money. The coffee we drink, the food we eat, the car we drive or don’t drive, the clothes we wear, the list goes on and on. When we click the checkout button, we are telling the people who are trying to sell us stuff, what we actually want. It works!

For example, the American consumer wanted healthier, even organic food options . . . BOOM! No problem. We wanted to cut down on carbon emissions . . .  BAM! Hybrid cars! It is average people like you and me that call the shots. So what happens when we decide to use this influence for good? I think there is parallelism here with the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. I cannot help but realize the wisdom that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. demonstrated during these tumultuous times.

The burden of segregation weighed heavy, it was only a matter of time before it broke. MLK and those who stood up against injustice chose specific strategies to non-violently overturn business practices of the time. The famous lunch counter “sit-ins” caused business owners to reevaluate (CivilRights_Sit-Ins).


Students organized multi-racial bus rides across the country. These bus rides were often stopped and attacked by angry mobs. Eventually the Interstate Commerce Commission gave in and banned all segregation on bus lines (Freedom-Rides). Similarly, withholding our business can work to shake things up. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white customer, she was consequently arrested. In response, the black community boycotted the bus service, preferring to walk rather than support an unjust business practice. By working together, they seriously crippled the bus lines of Montgomery, Alabama (montgomery-bus-boycott).

The Civil Rights marchers took simple yet bold actions to bring attention to the injustice and oppression that was upheld in America. It was their courage and deliberate responses that eventually brought an end to segregation, and an ever increasing hope for equality. Perhaps we do not face the same harassment and hazards of yesteryear, but in the face of injustice, we may be faced with deciding to give up comforts we take for granted in order to bring about change.  When we spend our money or invest it, whether it be 10 dollars or 10,000, we are influencing the system. On this MLK day, let’s consider taking a closer look at the spending and investment choices we make.