As we pause to honor the life and dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we need to take a hard look at the work that remains to be done to make Dr. King’s dream a reality. The tenacious demons that Dr. King warned us against and led many to work tirelessly to overcome—poverty and racism—still plague our nation and communities. And our children continue to suffer.
In 1968 when Dr. King died, there were 1.1 million poor children in America. Today that number stands at over 15.5 million, almost half of whom (6.9 million) live in extreme poverty. It’s a sad commentary that 40 years after the Poor People’s Campaign that was carried out after his untimely death, poverty still stacks the odds against million of children before birth. Even sadder is the way that poverty interacts with race, and places millions of black and other minority children on a trajectory to all sorts of negative outcomes.
In many ways, Dr. King’s Poor People Campaign has been replaced with what the Children’s Defense Fund calls “The Cradle to Prison Pipeline.” This pipeline describes the phenomenon that sentences too many poor and minority children to a trajectory of marginalized lives, imprisonment and, often, premature death. Jim Crow has been replaced by incarceration, and the doctrine of “separate but equal” still can be used to describe our education system. When one in three black boys and one in six Latino boys born in 2001 will be incarcerated sometime in their lifetime, it’s time to sound an alarm about this threat to American unity and community. Our democratic ideals and our future as a world leader demand it.
The failure for all of us, those who in many respects are some of the most intellectually gifted and privileged in this world, to act now will reverse the hard-earned racial and social progress for which Dr. King and so many others were martyred. Like Dr. King, we all must develop the courage to look at injustice in the face, name it and use the considerable skills at our disposal to rectify it. In this spirit, the Children’s Defense Fund has launched “The Black Community Crusade for Children,” a campaign that demands the participation of all in order to be successful.
In the first phase of the Black Community Crusade for Children, launched in 1990, there exist countless models for success. In New York, the Harlem Children’s Zone has pioneered a new way to end the cycle of intergenerational poverty for thousands of children and families in a 100-block radius. The Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools have served over 80,000 children and trained 9,000 college-aged mentors. Healthcare benefits have been extended to 95 percent of all children. Countless other solutions to these problems exist right on our beloved Farm.
Forty-three years after Dr. King’s death, we must reflect on his day on the “fierce urgency of now.” While there are many problems facing poor and minority children, and by extension our country as a whole, these problems don’t lend themselves to fatalistic diagnosis. Rather, they are challenges for us to work together to solve problems that provide great opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovative thought. I am confident that the same campus that produced those who created Google and Sun Microsystems and that attracts students who dedicate countless hours to public service pursuits in the HAAS Center for Public Service and abroad, can partner with the Children’s Defense Fund and millions of other concerned Americans through the Black Community Crusade for Children. The solutions to the inequalities in our country eat in The Axe and Palm, kiss at Full Moon on the Quad and write IHUM papers. Through pursuing research, asking tough questions and bringing recognition of structural inequalities to whatever career we decide to pursue, we can be the generation that makes King’s dream, and the dreams of the million of poor and minority children in our country, a reality.
Michael Tubbs ‘12