Tim Cook: How The Klan, MLK and Bobby Kennedy Shaped Me

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While accepting a lifetime achievement award from Auburn University, his alma mater, Apple CEO Tim Cook told of how The Ku Klux Klan, Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy shaped his passion for human rights and equality. “Growing up in Alabama in the 1960s, I saw the devastating impacts of discrimination,” Cook said in New York on December 10th. “Remarkable people were denied opportunities and treated without basic human dignity solely because of the color of their skin.”

He recalled childhood memories of watching crosses burn on neighbors’ lawns in Alabama. “This image was permanently imprinted in my brain and it would change my life forever,” Cook said. “For me the cross burning was a symbol of ignorance, of hatred, and a fear of anyone different than the majority. I could never understand it, and I knew then that America’s and Alabama’s history would always be scarred by the hatred that it represented.”

You can watch the full speech below the fold:

Cook has been a very vocal supporter of workplace equality. He wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed in support of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would ban workplace discrimination based on gender or sexual identity. The proposed law was passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate but has not been taken up by the Republican-led House. During a recent Wall Street Conference call, Cook said he wants Apple to be “a force for good.”

Apple has non-discriminatory policies that Cook believes should now be written into law. “Now is the time to write these principles of basic human dignity into the book of law,” he said, noting that Apple is a company that deeply believes “in advancing humanity through its products and through the equality of all of its employees.”

Another point of Cook’s speech was the positive influence he sees Apple making on its customers. He shared that he receives hundreds of emails from customers every day, and he reads them all. “Last week, I received one from a single mom with a three-year-old autistic son who was completely nonverbal,” he said. “The child was recently given an iPad, and as a result, his mother told me that for the first time in his life he had found his voice.”

Cook noted that there are three photos in his office at Apple: two of Robert Kennedy and one of Martin Luther King. “They sacrificed everything, including their lives, as champions of human rights and of human dignity,” he said. “Their images inspire me. They serve as a reminder to me every day that regardless of the path that one chooses, there are fundamental commitments that should be a part of one’s journey.”

Source: AllThingsD