On January 15th, Dr. Martin Luther King's actual birth date, millions of people throughout the world will reflect upon how far we have come in 40 years, and how much further we must go to realize the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His son, civil rights leader Martin Luther King III and I will be in Washington, DC this year for the Inauguration of President Barack Obama and to lead a rally and march to rededicate to his father's dream of equality for all.
To be sure, America has come a long way in civil rights since the turbulent days of Dr. King. We have the nation's first Black President, we have more people of color who are millionaires, graduating from college, owning homes and living in the middle class. Such strides are to be commended. But Dr. King did not give his life just so that the most talented one tenth in communities of color could rise to even superior heights. His dream was that anyone, regardless of race or background, could walk in any community free of discrimination and go as far as their ambition and a little bit of luck would take them. After 40 years, we must rededicate ourselves to that part of Dr. King's dream and ensure that the successes at the top fuel successes for all.
Some forget that Dr. King died in Memphis fighting for the rights of garbage men, and was in the midst of organizing a poor people's campaign. He understood that when a rough storm comes, the foundation and ground floor of a house must be strong in order for the penthouse to stand. Today, America's foundation remains weak.
Consider these facts: 7 million African Americans–nearly 2 million of whom are children–lack health insurance. Black infants are nearly 2.5 times more likely to die before their first birthday than Whites; 33 percent of Blacks live below the poverty line. More than half of all Black neighborhoods lack access to a full-service grocery store or supermarket; some minority school districts have more kids of color dropping out or flunking out than graduating high school; and too many people of color are not being held accountable for their own actions, including breeding a disrespect for Black culture, history and women.
For every Oprah, we have thousands of women who cannot take the time to watch her show because they are juggling three jobs as head of the household. For every Tiger Woods there are hundreds of thousands of kids who don't even have a park to play in. For every Dick Parsons we have millions of Black men who cannot even find one good paying job. We cannot let some success mask the challenges we have today.
A critical challenge remains in the form of hate crimes and in achieving an impartial criminal justice system. The hanging of nooses and the injustices that transpired there that shocked our nation offer a surprise flashback to the days of Dr. King. In fact, the FBI recently said that hate crimes are on the rise. But it is more than just the hate crimes that is alarming. The criminal justice system itself often seems frozen in time, reflecting an era that we should have left long ago, to be recorded in history books.
Conscious and subconscious racial profiling and bias continue to pervert our justice system. For example, those who are stopped and arrested on the New Jersey Turnpike are 75 percent comprised of Blacks, and as you read this, New York police officers are on trial for killing Sean Bell, an unarmed young Black man leaving his bachelor party. Sean Bell is not an isolated case. One third of Black American males can expect to go to prison in their lifetime, while Black women are 8 times more likely to go to jail than their White counterparts, for the same offenses. These Black women are the fastest-growing population in the penal system. Sadly, America is nowhere near the point where most of Black America can view law and enforcement officers as friend rather than foe.
Some mistake my voice on these issues as fanning the flames of dissension and division. Dr. King faced exactly the same criticisms in his life as I and other civil rights leaders do today. But, just like the home inspector who points out the cracks and termites eating away at the foundation, a civil rights leader must expose the problems so that they can be cured and the house of America can stand strong. 40 years from now our children and our children's children will stop and reflect, as we do now, to see how far we have come since the days of Dr. King.
Let us join together over these next few years to repair and strengthen our foundation, and finish the dream of Dr. King.