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I’ve finally figured out why King Day makes me angry

I get mad on King Day. I get mad because we’re still fighting for the same things King fought and died for. I get mad because the ones who killed him are still fighting us today.

But more than anything, I get mad because we celebrate a King who had nothing but a dream. And that whitewashed version of King is a lie. King was imperfect, King wasn’t always right, King felt hopeless sometimes, and he managed to rise above all of that to change the world.

King made a president sign a voting rights act and civil rights act that racists still work to undo. But it wasn’t until King stood up against war and poverty that his enemies decided to kill him.

King called poverty a great evil, and then he said this. “Almost two-thirds of the peoples of the world go to bed hungry at night. They are undernourished, ill-housed, and shabbily clad. Many of them have no houses or beds to sleep in.” He talked about homelessness. He talked about health disparities. He said there’s nothing new about poverty, except we have the means to fix it.

That was fifty-seven years ago when he accepted his Nobel Prize. And sometimes when I look around, it looks like nothing changed. A quarter of Philadelphia still lives in poverty. We still have a problem with homelessness, and health disparities make black folks three times as likely to die from COVID than white people.

Our battle today is not just racial. It’s economic. Volunteering for a day doesn’t solve that. Playing King’s old speeches doesn’t solve it. What solves it is a fair minimum wage, education and opportunity, and jobs that don’t discriminate. What solves the problem of poverty—is us. That’s what King died for. That’s what we have to fight for, because when poor people of all races rise up in that struggle, we are far more powerful than we know.
Photo: President Lyndon Johnson shakes hands with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. By. US Embassy New Delhi. Creative Commons License

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