I had a college professor who reminded our class that Martin Luther King Jr. Day should be celebrated as, “a day-off from classes, but a day-on for education.” Indianapolis hosted a myriad of community festivals and free events to help us further our education and reconnect to our community and our past. Nationally, we celebrated the preservation of democracy as we watched President Obama swear in for his second term.
This day, which featured an intersection between legacies of our American past and projections onto our political future, certainly cultivated the climate for a “day-on” for education. And as we compare the country before us to the country that King envisioned, we know there is much work to do.
In his 1967 publication, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that:
“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it. The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty … The well off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for “the least of these.”
For Indiana youth and families, the threat of poverty has become all too real in the wake of the recession; from 1989 to 2011, Indiana saw the second largest increase in poverty of any state during that time according to a Reuter’s analysis of census data. The figures are worse for Indiana youth. According to IYI’sKids Count Data Book, 16% of all Hoosiers lived in poverty in 2011, while 23% of children under the age of 18 lived in poverty. 22.7% of children lived in households that are food insecure. And Indiana’s data only corroborates the present-day national landscape of poverty. According to US Census data 50 million Americans are living in poverty. With the new poor and near-poor included, that number balloons to 150 million Americans—nearly half the nation.
Radio personality and Indiana native, Tavis Smiley, launched a national campaign aimed at mustering the political will to do something about that. On Friday, January 18th in Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler University, Smiley and Princeton University Professor, Cornel West, launched their Vision for a New America: AFuture Without Poverty Tour. The tour’s central goal is to petition the President to hold a White House Conference on the eradication of poverty. You can express your views on the issue and sign that petition here. In Smiley’s words, addressing poverty in America, “is not a skill problem, it’s a will problem.”
Dr. King envisioned a country that strives towards principles of the “beloved community,” where love and support for fellow humans would eradicate racial, economic, and military violence. Let’s take time today to celebrate his life’s work, to educate ourselves about the work still to be done, and to find our own place in furthering his dream.