Honoring Bayard Rustin: A Legacy of Resilience, Courage and Unity

Reflecting upon our history and uniting for the future this Pride Month at Pitney Bowes
"Let us be enraged about injustice, but let us not be destroyed by it."

These powerful words from Bayard Rustin, a trailblazing figure for equal rights, bring to mind the power of peaceful gathering and unity as we celebrate Pride Month at Pitney Bowes. Our 2024 theme – “Reflect. Empower. Unite.” – is inspired by NYC Pride.

As a leader of diversity and inclusion at Pitney Bowes, I feel a profound personal connection to Bayard Rustin. This connection isn’t solely due to what he stood for or the people for whom he advocated.  Although I wasn’t named after him, he is my namesake. I carry this honor with great pride in both my professional work and personal life, and consider him a role model.

As we recognize Pride, it’s imperative to lift up LGBTQ+ changemakers who stood up for and helped secure the freedoms we enjoy today. This year at Pitney Bowes, we honor Bayard Rustin, a Black gay man, as a shining example for those seeking to make a positive difference for others in our world.

A Legacy of Change

Bayard Rustin was born in 1912 in West Chester, PA. He was raised by his Quaker grandmother who helped to instill the values of nonviolence and social advocacy early on. Some of Rustin’s notable contributions include his dedication to advancing civil rights, and mentoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to adopt resistance through more passive and nonviolent means.

Rustin believed in the shared existence of all of us and worked tirelessly to advance the rights of so many. Arguably, his most notable civil rights achievement was his role as the lead organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. King gave his legacy “I Have a Dream” speech. Rustin’s upbringing as a Quaker and his studies of Mahatma Gandhi, leader and advocate of peaceful resistance, inspired his belief in the power of nonviolent resistance, which directly influenced the nonviolent strategy of the march. Despite the key role he played, he largely worked behind the scenes.

Rustin was discriminated against because of his skin color and, as an openly gay man, his sexual orientation. He was arrested and jailed for 60 days for engaging in consensual homosexual acts, which led to public attacks from civil rights leaders and opponents alike, and created concern among some about the impact on the movement.

Undeterred, Rustin demonstrated courage and perseverance, and incredible organizing skills. He had tremendous ability to navigate and challenge barriers, and while he didn’t receive the credit he deserved at the time, his contributions serve as a model of courage and advocacy for us all. 

Reflect: Learning from Rustin's Legacy

In this period of upheaval in the 1960s, unfortunately, racial discrimination and homophobia were common. Rustin’s courage as a Black, openly gay man gives light to a multifaceted struggle still faced by many members of the LGBTQ+ community, who must navigate the complexities of more than one marginalized identity. His steadfast commitment to advocate for civil and LGBTQ+ rights in such a time is remarkable.

Many minorities find themselves having to advocate for more than one part of their identity, and Rustin was a prime example of this by refusing to hide his sexual orientation while also advocating for others. His ability to integrate his whole self into his work is a powerful reminder of the richness of diversity and the power of inclusion. Rustin offers a strategy and approach that is still relevant today.

His story challenges us to reflect on our own roles in supporting diversity and fostering inclusion at Pitney Bowes. We encourage everyone to consider how Rustin’s life and contributions can help us work towards a more inclusive workplace and world.

Empower: Inspiring Action

Rustin’s legacy is a powerful catalyst for empowerment. By looking at his experience and achievements, we can inspire people from the LGBTQ+ community and their allies to use their voices and actions to advocate for others. For instance, Laverne Cox, an actress and queer rights advocate whose work illuminates a path for others to follow. Her work has been instrumental in advocating for LGBTQ+ equality and transgender rights in particular. She is a trailblazer, much like Bayard Rustin was in his time.

"We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers." – Bayard Rustin

Collectively we have a responsibility to act and help shape the world that we want to live in. Give the gifts of your time and talents towards community service, advocate for others, or simply create a safe place for others in your everyday life. Pitney Bowes is committed to supporting these initiatives and encourages all our people to participate in Pride Month programming. We also offer ways to contribute and find additional support year-round, through our inclusion networks or other company community outreach programs.

Unite: Unifying People for a Brighter Future

If we are to strengthen community, it must be done in a way that unites people across a wide array of differences. Rustin knew the power of passive resistance and worked persistently to build coalitions. In an incredibly turbulent time once again, it’s important to work toward inclusion and unity.

Partnerships between identified and allied LGBTQ+ people demonstrate the power of unity. At Pitney Bowes, we believe that inclusion and collaboration are key drivers of innovation and business success. Bringing our authentic selves to work allows us to form bonds of trust, respect, and engaged collaboration. We know that this is key to delivering results for all of our stakeholders.

The business community plays a critical role in supporting diversity and inclusion. Pitney Bowes has been a leader in this space for many years, by implementing practices and policies that support all employees, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Although we have many opportunities for improvement, we remain a human-centered company.

"We are all one - and if we don't know it, we will learn it the hard way." – Bayard Rustin

As we celebrate Pride this year, please keep in mind the importance of reflecting on our shared history, empowering and holding space for others, and uniting together now and for the future. Bayard Rustin’s story is a light that shines brightly for others to find the way.

“The proof that one truly believes is in action.” – Bayard Rustin

This Pride, consider what you might do to honor the many people who pioneered our present-day rights and freedoms. While we must persist in our efforts toward equality and prevent erosion of progress, let’s also take the time to learn about the individuals who paved the way for us. By doing so, we can actively participate in our collective endeavor to reflect, empower and unite.

Learn more about Bayard Rustin by watching the 2023 American biographical film Rustin and learn about our employment opportunities on our Careers page.