Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is known as history’s greatest crusader for African American equality as well as a martyr for the American civil rights movement. King paved the way for black men and women, amongst other minorities, to reach heights that would not have been possible without his relentless dedication to true equality.
The strength and courage that King displayed despite the staggering disadvantages ignited a flame in the nation to strive for true racial equality, and that flame has yet to be extinguished.
While King’s legacy of racial equality in America has progressed the nation and provided minorities with equal opportunities, there are still parts of his dream that remain unfulfilled, namely the part of his dream that called for economic and financial fairness for all Americans.
In light of his staggering civil liberties achievements, it is easy to overlook the fact that King’s historic “I have a dream” speech was given during the march on Washington for jobs and freedom.
During his famous speech, King not only challenged the nation to reflect upon the contents of their hearts, but he also challenged the government to step up and do their part to help those in lower economic brackets.
As King put it, “The poor are less often dismissed from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and incompetent…The problem indicates that our emphasis must be two-fold. We must create full employment or we must create incomes.”
With statements such as this, King pressed the nation to rise to the challenge and call for economic action. Many believe that King was the spur that drove former President Lyndon Johnson to declare a war on poverty.
The challenge King presented was simple: either create more jobs or allow more money for the poor. Still, over 50 years later, America still faces record high unemployment rates and even higher rates of families living within or below the poverty line.
According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, in late 2013 there were approximately 46.5 million people living within the government defined poverty bracket. In the United States, 46.5 million people is just over 15 percent of the entire population.
That’s 15 percent of Americans that struggle on a daily basis to pay their bills, clothe their families and put food on their tables. Within these figures, the primary victims of these statistics are minorities.
These numbers are a frightening reminder thatKing’s dream has not been fully realized, and it is up to us to do something about it. Whether it’s voting for a particular candidate, marching for the cause or simply helping those in need, we must do our part.
Poverty is not just a phenomenon that happens once every generation, but an affliction that has always been detrimental to society as a whole. As college students, we have the power to affect those around us for the better and help completely fulfill the dream King spoke of so long ago.
I’ll end with a quote fromKing that is as true today as it was when he spoke it: “The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind…The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.”