Lewis Diuguid

There is much work to do to fulfill Martin Luther King’s dream

Lewis W. Diuguid
Lewis W. Diuguid

This week the nation celebrates the work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the “I Have A Dream” speech he delivered 50 years ago Wednesday at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Many will marvel at how far African-Americans have advanced in business, government, education, civics and education. Yet people like Derron L. Black see King’s dream as unfinished work.

“It was a great start,” said Black, a 31-year-old autoworker who last year ran unsuccessfully for the 23rd District seat in the Missouri House last year. He’s concerned about the ongoing suffering, decay, poverty, segregation, poor schools and unmet needs where he grew up and lives.

“If a person doesn’t have a viable way to provide for himself, his spirit is really being stifled,” Black said.

Gwendolyn Grant, president and CEO with the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver also worry about the growing disparities and anger among people the civil rights gains didn’t reach. It’s what the next 50 years must correct.

Black expressed some of that anger, making headlines when he interrupted Mayor Sly James’ State of the City speech in March at the Gem Theater before police arrested him. It was inappropriate.

“I just said this is enough,” said Black, who gave voice to frustrations over other parts of the city being well cared for while the 3rd District continues to suffer neglect.

“It possibly wasn’t the smartest thing to do,” said Black, who joins others for this column series looking at 50 years of civil rights advances while sharing a vision for the next half-century. “But I am living with it.”

Black’s Facebook page swelled with congratulatory comments.

“They’re tired,” said Black, who plans to run for mayor in 2015. “They’re really fed up.”

Many have their backs to the wall. “Something has to give,” Black said.

The National Urban League’s “2013 State of Black America: Redeem the Dream” reports that 38.3 percent of black children live in poverty compared with 12.5 percent of white children. Black unemployment is 13.8 percent compared with 7.2 percent for whites. Black home-ownership is 44.9 percent compared with 73.8 percent for whites.

It is true that living conditions overall are better today for blacks than they were in 1963. The Urban League report shows that in 50 years, the income gap closed by 7 percentage points and the unemployment rate gap narrowed by 6 percentage points.

The report said that today only 15 percent of black adults hadn’t finished high school compared with 25 percent 50 years ago. Today there are 3.5 times more black 18- to 24-year-olds in college than in 1963, and five times as many black adults hold a college degree now than a half century ago.

But blacks “have achieved much less economic parity with whites than educational parity,” the report said. Too many African-Americans live in generational poverty and unsafe, segregated neighborhoods with poor to no services, businesses or jobs. The lack of nearby grocery stores with fresh fruits and vegetables is a reality.

A huge civil rights rebirth has to start now for advances to be certain in the next 50 years, Black said. Opportunity must replace the high incarceration rate of black men.

People must feel connected and see real benefits for themselves and their family. There must be accountability and not lip-service and glad-handing, Black said.

In the next 50 years, Black wants the inner-city to be as well off as the best parts of town. He wants its residents to be well-educated, in good jobs or owning businesses in the community.

“They keep being told now that they are the problem,” Black said. “When they look at themselves, they are doing all that they can.”

For King’s dream to live, America and all of its people must do more now for those who’ve been left behind.