Ina Fried

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Hear How Witnessing a Cross-Burning as a Child Motivated Apple CEO Tim Cook to Fight for Equality (Video)

Apple CEO Tim Cook isn’t known for talking much about himself, but in a speech this week, he talked about some of the early childhood experiences that shape his passions around fighting for human rights and equality.

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“Growing up in Alabama in the 1960s, I saw the devastating impacts of discrimination,” Cook said, accepting a lifetime achievement award from Auburn University, his alma mater. “Remarkable people were denied opportunities and treated without basic human dignity, solely because of the color of their skin.”

He talked about seeing a cross-burning at the home of a nearby family.

“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.”

Cook notes that in his office are three photos — two of Robert Kennedy, and one of Martin Luther King Jr.

“They sacrificed everything, including their lives, as champions of human rights and of human dignity,” Cook 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.”

Cook said he is glad that his path has taken him to Apple, a company that shares his values. He talks about his and Apple’s support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit companies from discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers.

“I have long believed in this, and Apple has implemented protections for employees, even when the laws did not,” he said. “Now is the time to write these principles of basic human dignity into the book of law.”

The Senate has passed the bill, but the Republican-led House has not indicated any plans to take up the legislation.

He also noted the work Apple does to make its products accessible to those with disabilities, sharing the story of a single mom with an autistic child who was completely nonverbal and spoke his first words thanks to an iPad.

The full speech is about 13 minutes, and well worth a watch:


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work