I was five-years-old when Rosa Parks and Dr. King began their heroic quest to break the back of the Jim Crow South of which I was a part. I grew up watching with amazement the unfolding liberation events we refer to as the American Civil Rights Movement.
I remember exactly what I was doing on April 4, 1968 when the news came that Dr. King had been gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee. I often wonder what America would be like today had he not been murdered.
If he were alive, we would have celebrated his 77th birthday yesterday.
Remembering Dr. King, his work and his legacy in view of life in the urban centers of our nation today forces me to conclude that we need a new and continuing movement for liberation and justice.
So, on the national holiday set aside to honor Dr. King, I am wondering, what would he be doing if he were still alive and with us in today's America?
Actually, I think I know.
If Dr. King was working today, he would. . . . . .speak out on behalf of working people in America. When he died, Dr. King was in Memphis supporting the strike of Memphis sanitation workers. He would be calling for justice in pay and wages for working Americans who almost forty years later find themselves in an even weaker position than in 1968. His concern would include full funding for training resources to assist American workers in enhancing their skills so that they could earn more for their work.
. . .call our leaders to find a solution to our national health and wellness crisis. At the center of his argument would be a call for fairness and justice in the arena of health care delivery and outcomes. He would be speak forcefully to the glaring and undeniable disparities, cutting along racial lines, that are a national shame.
. . .challenge us to provide decent, affordable housing for every individual and family in America. He would call us to account about the growing problem of homelessness. He would insist that working families deserve fit, affordable places in which to live and raise their families.
. . .question the current rhetoric about our national commitment to high-quality public education. Dr. King would be concerned about our return to segregation in the public schools and he would insist on providing what our schools need to prepare our children for life in our changing, shrinking, high-tech world. He would not allow us to leave any child behind.
. . .rebuke our leaders for their support of the current tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of programs designed to lift the poor. He would clearly, truthfully contextualize the so-called gains in employment and job creation, pointing out the fact that the jobs created over the past 5 years have been lower paying than the jobs lost. He would let us know that earnings for American working families have declined annually since 2000, while our wealthiest citizens have enjoyed amazing income growth.
. . .offer alternative solutions and responses other than incarceration for dealing with non-violent drug offenders who are found disproportionately among the urban poor. He would challenge the "prison industry" that costs our states billions with terrible and counter-productive outcomes, especially for inner city neighborhoods. He would remind us that treatment is what is needed, not imprisonment for the poor.
. . .insist that the nation take a long, hard look at our foreign policy and how our actions abroad affect our people here at home. At the top of his list would be the current war in Iraq.
. . .remind us of the values of the faiths we confess and of just how those values relate to growing American poverty. Dr. King was a prophet. He would point us to the Hebrew prophets and to Jesus in an effort to re-tool our national conscience. In the process he would issue a clear, unrelenting call to the churches, the synagogues, the temples and the mosques of America to stand up, speak out and become involved in shaping a fairer, more just response to the problems of the urban poor.
. . .provoke a much more honest, better informed, less partisan national debate about public policy, justice, poverty, economic development and freedom in the United States.
. . .model love for all people.
How I wish he was still alive.
But, he is not.
We who celebrate his life and work must continue to follow his example and his call. We must complete what he and many others began.
Larry's new book, now available from Amazon.com! Also, now in Kindle format! To place your order visit Amazon.com today! Also, available at Barnes and Noble bookstores and on the web. Click on the image above to order!
Larry James' Urban Daily
A repository of ideas, resources, commentary and opinions concerning the issues facing low-income residents of the inner cities of the United States and how mainstream America largely forgets or, worse, ignores the day-to-day realities of urban life for the so-called "poor." Written and edited by the President & CEO of CitySquare. Please visit CitySquare.
Today and throughout 2013, we need your support to continue our life-changing work in inner-city Dallas. Every day hundreds of our wonderful neighbors arrive at our doors seeking our assistance, offering their help and prepared to pursue a better life. Frankly, the folks we "serve" make essential contributions to the scope, nature and soul of the work we attempt. At CitySquare we honor and recognize the amazing value and richness of our low-income neighbors. During 2012, almost 55,000 different people received the benefit of our wide-ranging services designed to assist in the process of building better lives. We need your help TODAY as we continue to respond to the needs of our community. Even more, we need you to become our PARTNER in the work of compassion and community renewal--work that continues day after day at CitySquare.