impact

John Hope Bryant

Bestselling business leadership author and philanthropic entrepreneur

 

Our nation can and should feel proud of what we did to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. earlier this year, with the formal unveiling of the monument in his name in our nation's capital. That said, honoring the man is different from honoring his life's work, his commitments when he was with us, or more so, what he was working on when he left here.

As I am often reminded by my personal hero and mentor, Ambassador Andrew Young, who was then the senior aide and strategist to Dr. King in the civil rights movement, his friend Dr. King was squarely focused on the little known Poor People's Campaign, or addressing the issue of poverty at the time of his untimely death.

Dr. King, supported by a host of others, had achieved great victories in the fight for voting rights and basic social justice, and later he brought important attention to the errors of our war in Vietnam. In addressing the Poor People's Campaign though, Dr. King was turning his attention towards what he termed the third of the three evils of racism, war and poverty.

Some believe that it was this last, final focus, his focus on poverty — in the unique way that he approached the issue of economic parity for all — that actually got him killed. Sure enough, his death on that balcony in Memphis did indeed thwart a growing national movement addressing poverty in this country, even before it found its legs.

Dr. King never made it to the first Poor People's Campaign march and encampment in Washington, D.C., and 40 years later there is a broad, deep and growing economic underclass in America. One that particularly impacts the Black and minority communities yes, but now seems to impact most all of us on some level. Even if you are middle class today, you often "feel" poor. Today, if you are wise, you realize that we are all in this together.

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