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January 19, 2016

MLK & ADL: Because the Work is Not Yet Done

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium











Today, we mark the 87th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It also has been just over 180 days since I took the helm of the Anti-Defamation League(ADL), an organization founded more than 100 years ago in pursuit of a dream that MLK labored to achieve his entire life: to fight bigotry and create a more just society. MLK and ADL shared a path that today seems perhaps even more intertwined than ever before.

ADL was created in October 1913, forged in the crucible of anti-Semitism. Our founders sought to rid the world of that age-old scourge even as they equally endeavored to drive an agenda of civil rights and social justice. MLK was born 16 years later, and he matured into a civil rights leader in the 1950s, dedicating himself to exposing the brutality of the Jim Crow South and dismantling its discriminatory system of institutionalized racism and oppression.

ADL supported MLK and the movement in its earliest days. In 1954, we filed an amicus brief in the landmark Brown v Board of Education decision. Ben Epstein, one of my predecessors who led ADL in the middle of the 20th century, directed the organization to work hand in hand with African American leaders. MLK and Epstein stood together in Selma as Epstein recruited his entire executive team to march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge for that storied march in February 1965. And later,​ MLK and Epstein again stood side by side in the Rose Garden with President Johnson and Attorney General Kennedy, celebrating the gains of the movement and cementing the Black-Jewish alliance.

In recent years, however, many have lamented of the fraying of the alliance. Divergent interests in the ensuing decades have alienated many in our communities. Some simply have forgotten the history. Others have chosen to subordinate it to other more pressing concerns. But the thing about history is that it always remains, perhaps just under the surface, but it still endures.

In my role as CEO of ADL, I have sought to re-energize that history. Just last month, I led my first “leadership retreat,” bringing together my executive team of professionals and lay leaders. Yet, rather than hunker down near our headquarters in Manhattan, I opted to visit the American South so we could examine the legacy of the alliance that defined the American Civil Rights movement and reflect on our part in it.

We started in Atlanta at Ebenezer Baptist Church, not only where MLK preached and the language of the movement took shape, but the site where we previewed #50StatesAgainst Hate last August in the wake of the Charleston​ massacre. #50States is a new nationwide effort to ensure comprehensive hate crimes laws are passed in all 50 states so that all people of all backgrounds have the protection that they deserve.

We then traveled to Montgomery and listened to Bryan Stevenson whose landmark work at the Equal Justice Initiative on criminal justice issues and sentencing reform strikes me as some of the most important contemporary work in this field. We spent time in Selma, literally walking the same route across the Edmund Pettis Bridge that MLK, Epstein, and others walked 50 years earlier. Although we faced none of the hatred and violence that confronted those marchers, we were struck by the history of the moment.

Yet the retreat was not intended simply to celebrate our past. It was designed to remind ​us of the responsibility of the inheritance bequeathed to us by Dr. King and Epstein. It was about climbing that hill of history so that we might root ourselves in our legacy but also to use its vantage point to look out at the horizon at the great challenges that remain before us today. For surely, the work is not done.

As we consider the rising inequality in our country between the rich and the very poor, we know the work is not done. As we consider the contrast between our graduation rates and incarceration rates, we know the work is not done. As we consider the inability of our laws and the failure of our culture to protect all vulnerable groups from discrimination, we know the work is not done. As we observe the coarsening of the public conversation and the rise of extremism, we know our work is not done.

To paraphrase MLK, change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. On this MLK Day, we recommit to the struggle — to straightening our backs and pressing forward with the hard work of stopping the defamation of the Jewish people, stemming the tide of bigotry in all forms, and securing justice and fair treatment to all.

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January 13, 2014

Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service

Five Tips for Working with Children, Tweens, and Teens 

Martin Luther King Jr.

As we honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy through the National Day of Service on January 20, 2014, we encourage teachers, parents and families to provide community service opportunities for children and youth.  Below are tips to help make the experience meaningful.


“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

—Martin Luther King Jr.


1.     Generate service learning ideas from children and youth.

Engage young people in a discussion and brainstorming session about their community, encouraging them to think critically about its most important assets and what areas need more support. The more buy-in youth have from the beginning, the more investment they will have in the project, and it will have a more lasting effect on them and their communities.


2.     Think beyond community service to social action.

While it is important for youth to help others, the experience will have more meaning if they see the big picture.  It is one thing to spend a few hours at a homeless shelter distributing lunch;  take the service project to another level by helping young people understand why people are homeless and what they can do about it.  Engage youth in social-action strategies, such as writing letters; social media campaigns, including online petitions and donations; engaging in advocacy to get a law or bill passed; creating PSAs (public service announcements); and delivering speeches.


3.     Use the experience as an opportunity to build empathy.

Service provides a rich opportunity for youth to develop empathy for others, especially those who are in need.  As they are serving, make sure young people see the complexity and humanity in the people they serve.  Prepare children for the experience by answering their questions, listening to their fears and dispelling their misconceptions.


4.     Be aware of bias-related language and be careful not to perpetuate stereotypes.

Make sure the experience helps youth connect with the people they are serving rather than perpetuate stereotypes. Address thinking that focuses on pity or simplistic understanding of people’s circumstances. Guide to move beyond thinking of people as the “other” (i.e., “not one of us”) to understanding and respecting their humanity.. Remind youth to use language that does not equate people with their characteristics or actions (i.e., say “people with disabilities, not “disabled people”; say “youth who bully,” rather than “bullies”).


5.     Inspire children and youth to change the world.

Convey the message to youth that they can change the world.  Even a small, one-time action of helping their neighbors and communities can have a deep impact on a young person.


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March 21, 2013

Imagine If They Had Lived

Imagine a world where the hate crimes against Martin Luther King Jr., Anne Frank and Matthew Shepard did not happen. Now, during ADL’s Centennial Year, fight bigotry and extremism by sharing this video and pledging to create a world without hate.

In honor of our Centennial in 2013, ADL has launched the “Imagine a World Without Hate™” video and action campaign, and we invite you to join in.

Take just 80 seconds of your time to watch this powerful video, which imagines a world without racism, homophobia or anti-Semitism — a world in which the hate violence that took the lives of Martin Luther King Jr., Anne Frank, Daniel Pearl, Matthew Shepard and others did not happen. Imagine what these individuals could have continued to contribute to society if bigotry, hate and extremism had not cut their lives tragically short.

After 100 years of fighting bigotry and fostering respect, we are celebrating our successes, while at the same time recognizing that we still have a long way to go to achieve the reality of a world without hate. Explore the Imagine Web Page at to take action as an individual, community, school or corporation. Tell us what you will do to create a world without hate.

ADL is most grateful to the families of those featured in the video, whose commitment and participation made this campaign possible, and to the Estate of John Lennon for granting us the rights to use his beautiful and iconic song.

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