Written by Dr. Anthony O. Parker
Dr. King Luther King always went where he was needed, when he was needed. In April 1968, the sanitation workers needed him in Memphis, Tennessee. He didn’t hesitate when they called. His speech on the evening of April 3, 1968 at Mason Temple illustrates that he knew that any day could be his last. He had other plans, but the sanitation workers of Memphis, Tennessee, needed him there.
Before leaving for Memphis, Dr. King began planning for a march on Washington to be held during the late spring or summer of 1968 to call attention to the plight of America’s poor. I earnestly believe that he was thinking of others and not of himself.
Dr. King and his family were not impoverished, but they certainly weren’t wealthy. Much of his income was turned over to the Southern Christian Leadership Council. He knew that even if he could impact the political environment to reduce poverty substantially, he would not likely benefit financially. His reward was knowing that Americans, regardless of race, gender, or geography, would have a better chance of succeeding. Also, he knew that there were no guarantees.
Did he accomplish his goals? Well, he didn’t lead the poor people’s campaign in person.
His untimely death made it impossible that he would provide his continued leadership. However, the dream went forward even after the dreamer’s assassination. It is obvious that poverty still exists. However, the system of unending indentured servitude called sharecropping ended. Chain gangs that assigned incarcerated human beings to third parties as free labor ended. The U.S. Department of Education created the Title IV financial aid program, JTPA (later to become WIA/WIOA), and Perkins funding for schools. Georgia created the HOPE Grant, HOPE Scholarship, and Dual Enrollment. All of these opportunities were introduced after Dr. King’s death. He didn’t lobby the lawmakers or draft the legislation. However, he shared his vision while he still had a voice.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that the mere presence of these programs will eliminate all poverty. I’m not naïve enough to believe that there is no more work to do.
A child born into poverty cannot alone eliminate the conditions that they face. We must encourage and teach that child how to gain the economic utility needed to earn a family-sustaining wage and become affluent. That child must also be taught about social responsibility and to learn enough to have an informed political opinion. Each child must learn the responsibilities of citizenship.
Even for adults, it takes time to gain the skill sets needed and transfer those abilities into earnings.
It is the responsibility of citizens to wisely and judiciously use the opportunities provided to them. We must make every attempt not to squander those available opportunities. Aim high and finish what you start. Don’t believe the hype. Realize that nothing good comes easily. If we stay focused, authentic, and then become successful, we will have earned the rights to a part of the legacy left to all of us by Martin Luther King.