Reflections on Dr. King’s legacy
Days before he was assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King had gathered with his advisors to consider launching a new campaign for the adoption of a living wage in the United States. Decades later we continue to struggle with this issue and poverty maintains a strong hold on an unacceptable number of our fellow citizens. One out of every five children live in poverty and I dare say that for the vast majority of the children, youth and families we serve poverty is the most significant factor that continues to place them at risk even after considerable improvement in treatment.
Whether we see this issue related to a living wage, job readiness or employment opportunities, poverty makes safety harder to provide, improvement and well being challenging to achieve and permanency considerably more difficult. I raise this as we celebrated Dr. King’s birthday because it reminds us that the core issue that undermines the well being of those we serve is poverty. The Great War on Poverty waged along with the Civil Rights movement may have achieved much but for many we serve today those achievements have long been mitigated by a persistent erosion of the basic tools that serve to reduce the impact of poverty.
Take for instance that sixty percent of public school fourth, eighth and twelfth graders are below grade level in both reading and math. Education traditionally has been a pathway that leads one generation to another one of greater prosperity. Perhaps with these kinds of statistics education as a way out of poverty is yet another American myth. As much as improvement of our education system is often a rallying cry in our public discourse, it is one of the first things to be sacrificed when balancing public sector budgets; so much for providing those that need it the most a vehicle that mitigates the effects of poverty and offers an opportunity for a better life.
As part of our Dr. King celebrations here at Hillsides we will be delighted this week by a performance of African dance and drumming. The performance is rooted in the history of a people who in the face of oppression and injustice lifted their spirits never-the-less in dance and song. This was done not as a way to be distracted but rather to be inspired in movement and music to look beyond the struggle to the freedom of spirit that knows no bounds and is not dependent on anyone or any institution to provide.
My hope is that Dr. Kings legacy is not limited to any one of his considerable achievements but rather that no matter our creed or color we become a people ever resourceful to combat the injustices of our day in spite of the failures of some long revered solutions.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”–Martin Luther King Jr.