Every January, the U.S. recognizes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as a leader who influenced the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and similar legislation, and whose legacy continues to inspire equality and justice for communities around the world.

For Boeing engineer Debra Coleman, Dr. King’s work directly contributed to her family’s relocation to Sacramento, California, from Mobile, Alabama. Her parents credited a 1966 law banning segregation in interstate facilities, such as roadside restaurants and hotels, for their ability to move. Otherwise, the cross-country trip would have been reliant on the “green books,” reference guides that Black Americans referred to when traveling to identify safe places to eat and sleep

“I grew up as the civil rights movement was ending,” Debra said. “It wasn’t distant history for me.”

Growing up in California, she found her passion for engineering while spending Saturday afternoons with her father, a computer programmer who would take her to work and let her play with the punch cards and write simple programs. She participated in science competitions and camps throughout childhood and eventually attended Boston University — the very college Dr. King attended. Coleman said she had a spiritual connection with Marsh Plaza, an outdoor space dedicated to Dr. King where 50 plowshares represent the 50 states.

“The stories I remember about Dr. King and the civil rights movement were stories of perseverance, determination and righteousness, and they are deeply instilled in me,” Debra said. “My father said ‘if you do right, right will follow you.” And he quoted Dr. King, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

Outside of her work at Boeing—which has sent her around the world working with myriad programs and customers — Debra founded a STEM education program called Kids in Science and Engineering (KISE) that provides hands-on activities for students in the Seattle area. What started in 2010 with a dozen students has since grown to serve multiple schools and communities. Debra self-funded KISE at the beginning, but soon received financial support from co-workers and Boeing itself.

“You don’t have to do one big thing: It’s the combination of little things that make an impact."

Dr. King’s call to action is also reflected in the work of Stacia Graham, this year’s recipient of the Black Engineer of the Year Award for Community Service. Her passion for volunteering started at Tennessee State University when she assisted in elementary school classrooms as a teacher’s aide and assisted underrepresented K-12 students. After she graduated and started working at Boeing St. Louis, Stacia said the company helped foster her passion by providing her opportunities to continue interacting with students during site visits.

This led her to speaking to classrooms about her work as an electrical engineer, visiting juvenile detention centers for goal-setting workshops with her local chapter of the National Society for Black Engineers, and facilitating STEM activities for students.

Boeing's partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) including with her own alma mater, Tennessee State University, is how Stacia learned about internship opportunities that attracted her to the company after college. She now works with her graduate chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., to prepare high schoolers for college and share the legacy and educational opportunities at HBCUs.

“You don’t have to do one big thing: It’s the combination of little things that make an impact,” Stacia said. “If you spend your time trying to be impactful in whatever way that is, with whatever bandwidth you have, you will make that impact.”

“If you look at it from the perspective of MLK, his life legacy is huge,” Stacia said. “We can point to specific things he did. But there were people beside him who we might never know about, yet he couldn’t have done it without them. There will always be leaders at the forefront who need the support of other people to further the cause.”

Making every hour count

In 2022, in honor of Dr. King’s legacy of community service, and as an extension of our commitment to advancing racial equity, Boeing is temporarily expanding its Volunteer Match Program to encourage employees to get involved in their communities — and to make every hour count.

In conjunction with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Black History Month, Boeing will provide a monetary donation of $10 for every hour employees volunteer with eligible nonprofit organizations.

Learn more about how our company and employees give back to local communities.