Commemorating MLK’s Legacy

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr (August 28, 1963)

Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death. I am deeply moved by Dr. King’s legacy, as I still remember learning about him in middle and high school in Shanghai. I believe it is our generation’s duty to carry on his vision of giving voice to those who are not heard.

Marc Draisen, the executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council where I work, posed two questions during a lunch meeting on Wednesday to commemorate Dr. King:

1)      What does MLK’s legacy mean to you and to your work in the world?

2)      How can we at MAPC continue to honor his legacy through our work?

This discussion has been one of the most eye-opening meetings I have had the opportunity to attend. It was insightful to sit in as an outsider, to hear of the challenges and opportunities faced by a majority-white governmental agency such as MAPC. Some things I learned:

  1. Pursue justice through all opportunities presented (eg. Marc supporting the Great Neighborhoods Bill on affordable housing)
    1. See Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign of 1968
    2. Land use bills and systemic racism
  2. Prepare three agenda items to ask for after demonstrating (eg. Jesse Jackson and Mayor Daley in Chicago)
  3. Remember how radical Martin Luther King Jr’s stance was and the fact that racism still exists today (i.e. JFK was not aligned with Dr. King’s stance)
    1. Consider definitions and manifestations of racism
    2. Address fear of poor people
    3. Think about how to include faith-based social justice communities and their work to help immigrants and others
  4. Consider how social justice fits into MAPC’s State of Equity report and extend into work of other departments
    1. Always use a lens of social justice + equity in work
  5. Explicitly state how to include minorities
    1. Rethink hiring practices 
  6. Seek out partnerships
    1. Seek out executive director (Marc) and others who may have more power to implement change
    2. Connect to those who knew MLK personally
    3. Look around the table and see who is talking — include people of color in the conversation, listen and be aware of one’s privilege
  7. Commit to upfront investment to include social justice issues, seek out clients & funding to address these issues
  8. Benchmark progress, have faith in pursuing a vision of addressing social justice
  9. Invest in training, retention and advancement for people of color
    1. Extend access to audits, ownership of home, jobs

It was quite an emotional and uncomfortable discussion, and I did not understand everything. However, I hope to continue talking about these issues and help to make a positive change.

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