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MLK Day: African American Community Leader Edwin Lombard Discusses Dr. King’s Legacy, Views on Democracy and Equal Opportunity

Our team recently had the opportunity to interview Edwin Lombard, who leads the California African American PAC and his own consulting/advocacy firm Edwin Lombard Management, Inc. Lombard for years ran the California Black Chamber of Commerce and other statewide and local advocacy organizations that have worked to engage the Black community. On this important day, we are proud to have Edwin share his thoughts. Lombard is a partner to JCI and we appreciate his insights on Dr. King’s legacy and the future of racial equity.

What is the significance of MLK day to you?

Our history is almost being rewritten as we speak, and a lot of the significance of African Americans is being removed from the history books. On MLK Day, we make sure that the important things the accomplishments of African Americans in the United States are prominently remembered, and are brought to the forefront. So that's why I think MLK Day is such a significant piece of the United States history and the culture going forward.

What do you think are the most important messages from Dr. King?

Dr. King was many things at once. He was a general in the army of free persons. He was a great Baptist minister. He was an excellent organizer and drum major for the justice for justice, a soldier of peace and advocate for the left out, locked out and hurt and hungry in each of us. He was a husband, a father and a loyal friend to his friends. He was a writer and a great orator. He learned how to make friends with his fear and he learned how to control anger and befriend his enemies. He learned how to live a life worth dying for. Dr. King accepted the American promise put forth by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence that all persons are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among those are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He accepted his unfulfilled promise and he accepted the hypocritical history of the promises with agape love and profound and admirable intelligence. He never gave up on his country, nor did he live up to the capacity of the people to organize with love and tenacity and make a promise come true. Dr. King is one of those leaders who never dies. Perhaps we should speak of him not only in the past tense, but also the present and future tense. Dr. King is an example of each of us a high standard, demanding excellence in our hearts and in our heads. Let's be like Martin.

What is your favorite quote by Dr. King?

“We have inherited a large house, a great world house in which we have to live together, black and white, Eastern and Western, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu, in a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest. Who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace, our hope for creative living in this world house that we have inherited lies in our ability to reestablish the moral ends of our lives, and personal character and social justice. Without this spiritual and moral reawakening we shall destroy ourselves in the misuse of our own instruments.”

That is important because think of where we are right now, what we're faced with, what our past president was doing and what he says he's going to do if reelected again. We're talking about possibly destroying democracy. The world we live in, I've lived under dictatorships because I've traveled around the world and I've seen different things. There's no place like America. There will never be another place like America. So let's not destroy it. Let's make it continue to exist and thrive.

One of the words you used a lot to describe Dr. King is “leader,” of course, and you yourself have held a lot of leadership positions. What values are most important to you as a leader? How has Dr. King's legacy shaped these values? 

For me, a leader is someone who is selfless. A leader actually promotes his followers, in particular, those who work alongside him, so that it's well known that I'm not the only one doing this. There's a team. Dr. King was very good at making sure that those around him were respected and given their place. He did not dictate what was going to be done, or how it was going to be done, he did it as a democracy. They would sit down in back rooms of people's homes, and they would throw out scenarios and come up with game plans on how they were going to accomplish what they had to. Just imagine, we’re talking about the 60s in the Jim Crow South. We’re talking about black men marching down the main streets in some of these major cities, and they were being attacked the entire way. Fire hoses were being put on them, dogs being unleashed on them, police beating them with batons - men, women and children. That had to be pretty bold, in order to take it up yourself, and to have other people come along with you, to express how you felt about what was being done to people. So that's, that's real leadership. That's for sure.

Can you tell me about your career and some of the major milestones leading to your current role as the President and CEO of the Californian African American Political Action Committee (PAC)?

It's funny, because all my life, I hated politics. I didn't want anything to do with it. I wasn't interested in it. But as I became a more mature individual, my professional life got thrown into the political fray without me even realizing it. I used to have a business management company and my clients were artists like The Jacksons, Prince, Ray Parker, Jr., The Temptations and the list goes on and on. I transitioned from that, and I wound up getting into the golf business. I took a job in Sacramento because no one wanted the job. The reason I took that job was because it was hard for black men to get a position in golf, so I thought if I can get the position and perform well, it would solidify my space in the golf industry. Little did I know I was the first black man to ever manage a golf course in the state of California.

I did golf tournaments for legislators and the lieutenant governor who was Cruz Bustamante at the time. Then Bustamante and the Legislative Black Caucus came to me and said, you did a great job running these golf tournaments. Would you like to help us raise money in the political spaces through golf tournaments? And I did. Then the Legislative Black Caucus came to me and asked me to be their fundraiser. 

So I got into politics, fundraising for politicians. Then I turned that into a political consulting firm, where I would bring the black community to the table and get them to have a voice on legislative issues and regulatory issues. I didn't know that very few people were doing this. I became very good at it. Now I'm pretty much the go-to person in Sacramento when you want a black voice. That's how I got into politics. And I'm never going back.

I'm going into my third year now at the California African American PAC. Over the first two years of my running that PAC, we went from raising about $250,000 a year to raising over $800,000 a year and helping to get a number of the current black legislators elected. We've built a strong bench of individuals that are going to be running in this year's elections. I see the majority of them are going to actually make it through and become legislators, so that's exciting to me. That's what I call effecting change and creating systemic change, because these are young people coming into the political world. Some of them have the political accoutrement because they were City Councilmen, or they were on the school board or the water board. Some are just young, well educated and excited, so we'll give them training that they need. But I'm more excited about what's to come, because we've planted seeds now throughout the state in non-traditional black seats for individuals that will become legislators. 

What messages from Dr. King about racial equity are still not realized? What do you think are the most important next steps?

Martin Luther King was the actual creator of what we're now calling diversity and inclusion. That's a big thing right now, diversity and inclusion. It's something that he tried to promote from way back in the 60s. I would like to see that become the natural way of doing things, where you don't have to have a diversity and inclusion department because you are just hiring the best that's out there to fill the position, and giving everybody an opportunity to shine or to be a part of your organization so you can be the best. Diversity and inclusion is a huge thing for me as we go forward. 

The other thing is the idea of reparations. I don't believe that reparations means that the country writes a check to every black person that was affected by slavery; I don't think that's the way reparations should work. I believe that reparations would be best received, if opportunity was given, where black people had the ability to attend any school that they wished to attend and be given the financial support that they need. 

We were actually robbed back in the day. It starts back with the end of World War II when veterans came home, and they were given the GI Bill and allowed to buy homes, and they created developments for veterans that were very affordable with low interest rates. Well, black veterans couldn't receive those loans, and they were not allowed to live in those areas. Institutions were not available for black people to go to school. So HBCUs were created, so that there were black schools that would allow black people to attend and get a complete and total education. So we've always had to come up with a way to figure out how we can compete, even though we were not provided the same level of opportunity that everyone else has had. 

If you think about it, some of the greatest scientists were black scientists, some of the greatest creators were black creators. When you think about some of the greatest athletes that have ever played the game, you're talking about black people. Entertainers, there's a huge success rate for blacks in entertainment. When you talk about politics, think about what Willie Brown did in the state of California. Little black boy from Texas, came to California and completely changed the legislative process. So from my perspective, given the opportunity of black people, we're going to succeed on a very high level. Don't block us - allow us to have access at the same level that you do. I think that's what reparations should really be about: equal access, equal opportunity, so that we can level the playing field and be given an opportunity to succeed.

Let's think about it from a professional standpoint. So you go to school, you get your degree, you get a job at a major corporation. The black person is never given the same access to higher positions. There's that glass ceiling that you run up against. You might run circles around your competitors that are in the company with you, but they always get the promotion. They get the promotion because they have you on their team and you're doing all this great work that makes them shine. And they keep getting the promotions.

Black women are a force to be reckoned with. When it comes to voting, they vote more than anyone else. They affect the political process more than anyone else. They partner with other women throughout the United States, and collectively, women have a voice that is profound right now. I still don't understand why we have not had a woman president. Other countries, you can see women leaders and the significance that they have created. Because women have a very nurturing and mothering side to them, so that they understand all society should be taken care of, not just the more prominent individuals. I'm hoping that one day we will have a woman who is the president of the United States who will think along those lines and make sure that everyone is equally treated and has opportunity. To the very beginning, what was MLK Day to me? In a nutshell, that's what it is.

Mr. Lombard is the President and CEO of ELM Strategies, a division of Edwin Lombard Management, Inc., a Public Relations, Communications, and Community Engagement Firm. ELM Strategies endeavors to steer Black business and the Black Community as a systemic gateway strategically utilized as an effective and influential voice on legislative, and regulatory matters.

Edwin Lombard is an expert strategist in government relations, public affairs, coalition building and community engagement. He has been an advocate for Black businesses and has successfully represented Black small businesses and the black community throughout California for 21 years. Edwin Lombard was the President and CEO of the California African American Chamber of Commerce. Edwin also was the Executive Director of California African American Action Fund, a 501(c)3 non-profit business organization that educates, trains and supports Black businesses in California.

Edwin is currently the lead board director of the California African American Political Action Committee, and he is a board member of the California Small Business Association. Edwin is an active member of The NAACP, The Black Business Association and Black American Political Action Council (BAPAC). He served on the California Black Chamber Foundation Board from 2008 to 2010. He currently serves on the Community College African American Advisory Council and the Sacramento Cannabis Industry Alliance Advisory Council. Edwin received the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce Chairman’s Award in 2012, served on their Board of Directors from 2012 through 2014, and represented the chamber on the Board of Sacramento’s Next Economy. He was also voted Father of the Year in 2008 by the State Conference of the NAACP.

Edwin successfully served in the United States Navy from 1975-1981.


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