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3 Ways to Honor Martin Luther King, Jr. at Work

Today is a day off for some in the U.S., and a day of contemplation for many. Since 1986, we've observed January 20 (or the third Monday of the month) as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, to remember the legacy of the civil rights leader who used civil disobedience to fight racial inequality. If you're reading this at the office today, there's much you can do to honor Dr. King's memory, and make your company a better place to work.

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(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

1. Give the long-term unemployed a chance.

MSNBC refers to a seldom-quoted speech of Martin Luther King's, in which he explained the importance of work to our perception of ourselves:

"If a man doesn't have a job or income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility of the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists."

What can you do to solve the problem of persistent unemployment? Well, for starters, if you're a hiring manager, you can review the resumes of the long-term unemployed the same way that you'd look at the CV of a candidate who is currently working. Discrimination against the long-term unemployed is one of the biggest barriers to their being hired.

2. Fight racism where you find it.

The unemployment rate for African-Americans in 2011 was 15.8 percent, compared to 7.9 percent for whites and 11.5 percent for Hispanics, according to the Department of Labor. That rate has been trending down since -- but so has the overall rate of unemployment for all workers.

Not all discrimination is blatant or obvious, in part because it's illegal. The best thing you can do is to make sure that your company has a clearly stated policy about discrimination in the workplace -- and then, if you're in a position of power, make sure that people feel comfortable reporting any infractions.

3. Work hard to achieve your dreams.

"The civil rights struggle did not achieve its aims overnight," writes Joseph Steinberg at Forbes, "and its success was built on the hard work and sacrifice of many."

In our careers and in our lives, it's not enough to dream big: we have to be willing to put in the time and effort to make things happen. One of the best ways to honor those who fought for equality is to use the opportunities they've given us -- and to make sure others have the chance to do so, as well.

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