Today, we honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who left an indelible impact on the American civil rights movement and inspired generations to join the fight for equality. It’s important for all of us to remember our individual ability, and responsibility, to honor his legacy, embrace his ideals and help fulfill his vision.
As a firm, we have the unique opportunity to have a positive impact on underrepresented and marginalized communities. And, we cannot do that without creating a welcoming environment where everyone feels supported and believes there is room for growth. Today, we asked our employees to share their answers to this question: What does being an ally and advocate for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) mean to you?
I remember a courtroom exchange I saw a while ago. A woman walked in looking quite distraught and yelled, “Judge, I have a problem! Someone has placed a court order on me and I don’t know why.” She went on to say that she had already been evicted and was currently homeless. “What else must I go through?” she pleaded.
The combination of pain and “fight” in her voice could not be ignored, and my heart ached longing to provide some kind of assistance. But questions held me back: “Is this the right time or place?” “What can I do?” I was further challenged as I overheard the desperate woman tell a clerk that she kept filling out applications for a place to stay, but the application fees kept bringing her back to nothing. Still, the voice in my head said: “Surely, someone will be able to help her,” thus firmly encasing my feet in cement.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. When the fabric of society is being torn asunder by disparities in racial, social, criminal justice, income and other areas, keeping quiet is as complicit, if not more.” For me, an advocate and ally for diversity, equity and inclusiveness is someone who stands up for someone else when the time isn’t right and when the place is all wrong. They step up when they have little left to give themselves—and they don’t wait on someone else to act.
Everything about that strong, Black woman in the courtroom that day reminds me of 2020. Her fighting through the pain to say, “I matter, so remove the knee from my neck and stop holding me down.” That is the spirit I felt hit me. I just wonder now if the regret and the pain I experience is also sensed by those who call themselves my friend.
Being an advocate for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging reminds me of the quote: “Lifting as we climb” from Mary Terrell, a member of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). It is important to me, as I progress and excel in my life, to reach back into my community and other underrepresented communities. My goal is to help bridge that gap while building relationships through equal opportunities and representations.
Assistant Project Manager
Midtown Atlanta, GA
It means stepping up and stepping in to be a part of the change that I want to see, which is equity for all. I’ve grown in many ways since first joining our DEIB program, and that growth continually pushes me to be proactive in how I think and act. I have a responsibility to help others grow and help them believe that their voices have power. There’s still a long way to go, but if I can help just one person do that, I will have done my job.
For me, being an ally and advocate means to proudly stand for the concept that all people have value, regardless of how they may differ from me, and that we need to enthusiastically embrace diverse thoughts and backgrounds, ensure that all people are treated fairly when it comes to opportunities and compensation, and make a point of celebrating them in our lives.
Transportation Market Vice President
Advocacy often goes back to supporting the individual, whether that be financial support to create an opportunity that may not otherwise exist, or spiritual support to help an individual overcome a personal obstacle that is blocking them from living their best life. From a leadership level within the market, I believe it is our responsibility to identify barriers, such as minorities’ lack of access to summer internships in larger cities, and find creative solutions to help overcome these obstacles to aid the success of the individual. On a personal level, advocacy is about understanding issues, supporting individuals’ goals, and leveraging your influence to help others overcome obstacles in order to build community.
Levi Sciara, P.E.
Senior Civil Engineer
“What are you doing for others?” is one of the key questions that I must ask myself as I fulfill my job responsibilities at Gresham Smith. I am responsible for, and entrusted with, developing the next generation of leaders—not only for the firm and for the programs I manage, but also for our clients in the form of the next generation of owner-representatives and strategic business partners. I am responsible for giving my time to others—to listen, mentor, coach, and provide feedback and strategies for career development; to offer encouragement as well as training and advice; and to establish goals and opportunities to expand beyond their comfort zones in order to prepare the people I manage to have a positive impact on our industry and our clients. That is as much a part of my job as anything else I do.
That being said, it’s clear that I can’t provide career development strategies and associated training without creating an environment of diversity, equity and inclusion, where everyone’s “whole self” feels a sense of belonging. Part of career development is asking the question, “What roles am I preparing my teams for?” Without DEIB, there’s a significant portion of our team that just don’t see a career path for themselves. There’s no substitute for seeing someone who looks like you in an aspirational role. If I have a talented individual who has the potential to be a future leader of this firm, then I, as their supervisor, am obligated to use my influence to pave a way for their future career success. Civil engineer and business expert Tom Peters says, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” And I want to create spaces for my team to lead as well as roles for my team to aspire to. To me, that’s my job.
So, allyship and advocacy is a natural extension of that. We are a better team and a better firm when we create spaces and an environment where the talented people who are around us (and there is so much talent in so many forms and in so many shades of color) have a seat at the table and are equipped with the training and experiences to be impactful when that time comes, when the clients call, and when the storms arise.
Jeremy Busby, P.E.
Senior Transportation Engineer
Midtown Atlanta, GA