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MLK Jr.'s dream slumbers as reality runs through it

With more than 12 percent of the population living in poverty — a figure that has remained constant for 30 years — the dream has yet to awaken for too many.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during a

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during a speech in Selma, Ala., on Feb. 12, 1965. Photo Credit: AP / Horace Cort

The way forward for anyone or anything is not always so easy — and sometimes you may have to go back to the past to get to the future.

I think a lot about social issues and how they affect the black community. If you want to know why, just take a look at the photo that accompanies this column.

Today, we observe the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Some of us will listen once again to his enduring words of peace and equality, and when the day is done, look ahead to Black History Month, a celebration forged by earlier black leaders.

MLK Jr. had a dream, a dream so powerful that the man who shared it with the world needs no first reference to his name to know who he was. And whether he was marching for equality or campaigning for better pay for all people, it was a dream shared by many men and women and more than 50 years after his death, his words still impact the nation.

And while his dream spoke about a path to prosperity for all people, it was a restless dream that slumbered in the heads of blacks, who saw no signs of its reality.

I am a product of the black community, its struggles, its ups and downs, and growing up, King’s message led the way for me and so many others, regardless of skin color.

But on the day we acknowledge his efforts that resulted in a national holiday in his honor, he would be the first to acknowledge it is all window dressing as so much of his dreams still lies on a pillow and a day of observances and podium speeches don’t wipe away inequality or close the wealth gap.

And though he would find that life has dramatically improved for many minorities and poor whites, he also would find that poverty persists untamed. Blacks have been riding shotgun to America’s promises since they arrived here from Africa, but now that sidecar is stuffed as America’s promise also is failing low-income whites, other minorities and immigrants — and the problems are greater than ever.

He would find educational opportunities for black youth are now tossed around like balls in a lotto and wherever they fall, chance leads the way for the lucky few.

And I think he would be speechless at the disintegration of what has always been the black community’s greatest strengths: family, church and unity; and his spirit a bit broken that the pride in a glorious run from slavery to civil rights to the presidency is being lost and overshadowed with single baby mamas, welfare and young dope-dealing men and gangs packing guns adding correctional facility to their mailing addresses.

And I can’t imagine he wouldn’t feel a bit let down that many successful blacks have not reached back to help and struggling blacks have not reached up to seek it.

To me, there is little doubt if King were still here, he would urge the black community to go back to the past and recapture the basics to get to the future.

But he also would lead a growing chorus of experts who say the problems in poor black and white urban communities and poor rural white communities can be dramatically curbed by investing in the lives of people who live there — a challenge he was undertaking before a bullet ended his life.

The year he was allegedly assassinated by James Earl Ray (sorry, I don’t believe it), he put together the Poor People’s Campaign to bring together poor people of all races nationwide for another march on Washington, this time to demand better jobs, better homes, and better education.

I often tell my co-workers since I take public transportation from Bridgeport to work, I see and hear a lot that is missed by people just driving through. Public transit routes take you through neighborhoods aching for attention where homes and buildings are grimed with negligence, rather than aged with nobility. Some routes are through neighborhoods where the price of bus fare for some passengers is the last $1.75 in their pocket on payday. I overhear how they have to piece together paychecks from part-time jobs to make ends meet.

It is in these urban neighborhoods among the broken sidewalks, shuttered stores and abandoned lots and properties where so many politicians butter their bread with promises to the pawns in this political game.

But their twice-told tales come with twice-told lies. A community can only be as successful as the foundation that holds it up and the only time it seems real investments are made in poor black communities is when blacks are being shifted to the tow-away lanes.

The state pours millions into studies and gives away billions to keep in place companies that don’t need it but it can’t put money into neighborhoods whose backdrops are perfect for crime and gunfire.

I can’t help but think how those millions can make a real difference in some neighborhoods.

So, it seems bullets don’t always fly from handguns. More powerful bullets are fired at poor people by doing absolutely nothing — and are just as deadly because they kill hope.

On the day we celebrate King, we should remember the dream was equality for all humanity so that “all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics” can all enjoy the principles on which this country was founded.

But with more than 12 percent of the population living in poverty — a figure that has remained constant for 30 years — the dream has yet to awaken for too many.

And until that happens, we have no reason to celebrate.

MLK Jr.? The dream slumbers as reality runs through it.

James Walker is the New Haven Register’s senior editor. Follow him on Twitter @thelieonroars.

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