“But far from representing retrogression and tragic meaninglessness, the present tensions represent the necessary pains that accompany the birth of anything new.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On January 1, 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech titled “Facing the Challenge of a New Age.” It is a lesser-known speech in which the late Reverend asserts the difficulty of standing on the threshold of an old era of oppression and a new age of justice.
This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, America finds itself on a similar threshold: reeling from a crisis of police violence and racial injustice, a state-sponsored insurrection attempt, and a global pandemic now entering its third year. Facing the challenge of a new age, Dr. King acknowledged the temptation to feel “that we stand in the most ghastly period of human history.”
Indeed, communities of color and families working to make ends meet face distinct challenges in the current economic climate. As of December 2021, African Americans have the highest unemployment rate of any group at 7.1%. Hispanic unemployment is at 4.9%, while White unemployment is almost half that of the Black workforce at just 3.2%. Pandemic job losses have been concentrated in the service sector, where women and people of color make up the vast majority of frontline workers. Increasing rent prices have pushed many low-income families out of housing, as national median rent increased by 11.4% as of August 2021 compared with 3.3% from 2017 to 2019.
But Dr. King’s message on the challenge of a new age is one of hope. He asserted that political and social tension “are indicative of the fact that a new world is being born and that an old world is passing away.” As in 1957, the racial and economic challenges we face today are not without opportunities for meaningful growth.
Though COVID has exacerbated racial wealth inequities, the pandemic has also provided a unique exercise in the sort of public welfare spending that is proven to close income and wealth divides. The Child Tax Credit (CTC) increase, for example, is predicted to reduce child poverty by almost half from 14% to seven percent. Labor shortages in the service sector have boosted worker power in the fight for minimum wage increases. The philanthropic sector responded to the 2020 racial justice movement with increased funding and flexibility for communities of color and the institutions serving them.
As in 1957, the racial and economic challenges we face today are not without opportunities for meaningful growth.
Far too many people have been precluded from building economic power over centuries. People of color, in particular, have faced systemic discrimination, creating persistent and growing disparities at both individual and institutional levels. Prosperity Now’s Racial Economic Justice team is working in support of and in partnership with nonprofits that are serving communities of color to advance economic and wealth-building strategies rooted in equity, data-driven, and centered on those most impacted by injustice. We do this through:
- Providing hands-on program design and technical assistance on how to apply a racial economic lens.
- Amplifying and sharing learnings to decision-makers, i.e., policymakers and funding institutions.
- Amplifying bold new ideas and promising practices that will lead to transformative change for low- and moderate-income (LMI) families and communities of color.
This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we invite you to reflect on the challenges of a new age and Dr. King’s call to speed the coming of an era of justice. Read more about how Prosperity Now’s new vision for systemic change holds frontline communities at the center of transformative racial economic justice. Be sure to also visit our Racial Economic Justice Team’s website to stay informed about critical issues affecting America’s racial wealth divide, opportunities for advocacy, upcoming webinars, and more.
Originally posted by Prosperity Now on 2022-01-16 18:00:00