During my 23 years as editor of The Community Voice, I’ve often been asked to speak to predominately White organizations whose members were honestly curious about a Black newspaper that covers Black issues. In the days prior to the proliferation of the internet, but not as often now, I wasn’t surprised to be asked by a well-meaning audience member, “What are ‘Black’ issues?
My answer was always, ‘Black folks issues are pretty much the same as White people’s issues.”
During a speech I gave near the start of the Black Lives Matter Movement, I told a White audience they needed to be at least as concerned about police shootings as Black folks are, considering in pure numbers, more White people are killed each year by the police than Blacks.
Of course the audience looked at me open mouthed and shocked, but with just a little research, they’d find my point was true. Just because Black people elevated the issue to national attention, didn’t mean it we were the only ones affected by it.
Once again, the point is, a lot of issues are of concern across racial lines.
The Poor People’s Hearing
Come hear Dr. William Barber, and learn about his efforts to take up Dr. King’s mantle of the Poor People’s Campaign.
When: Mon., Oct. 8, 6 p.m. Cost: FREE
Where: Wichita State University Metroplex, 5015 E. 29th St. N.
Black people, just like White people are concerned about getting a good education for their children, making a livable wage, being able to afford decent housing, living in safe neighborhoods, being able to afford and get health insurance, ….
We have far more issues in common than many of us are prepared to realize.
It was MLK’s Vision
That was the conclusion Martin Luther King, Jr had reached in 1968 just months before his death. At the time, the civil rights movement was fragmented, with many Black activists gravitating towards ideologies articulated by leaders like Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Malcolm X, and the Black Panther party. And the attention of many young White activists had shifted from civil rights to stopping the Vietnam War.
King wasn’t blind to these fissures. The Poor People’s campaign was a way to get the Civil Right Movement back on track, and bring these disparate groups back together around issues that concerned them all: poverty, racism, and militarism. He hoped to inspire the millions of Americans of all races living in abject poverty to work together for change.
Fifty years later Rev. Dr. William Barber II is picking up King’s baton, determined to reinvigorate King’s Poor People’s Campaign. Barber, a former member of the NAACP national board of directors, stepped down from that position to co-chair this effort with Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, a White, female and long-time advocate for poor people’s rights.
The issues are still the same: the campaign is fighting for change that will have a positive impact on levels of poverty, racism, and militarism in America. The medium of choice for change is through changes in laws at all levels of government — nationally, and on state and local levels. In the midst of that fight are calls for an end to mass incarceration, and increase in police accountability, livable wages and affordable health insurance – all issues of disproportionate concern to the poor.
The Power of Numbers
Barber realizes there is power in numbers and there are a lot of poor people in America. Recently released 2017 Census Bureau numbers report 12.3% or 40 million Americans live below the federal poverty line. Another 29.4% of the population, or another 95 million people, are “low income” and struggling to meet their daily needs. Those who consider themselves middle class are also feeling the pinch.
Collaborating across racial lines gives the issues of the Black community “juice.” No longer are we just 10% (or less in Kansas) of the population that’s pimped for our vote, and our issues summarily dismissed once the individuals we help elect are securely ensconced in office.
Collaborating doesn’t mean we’re giving up our Black card. In this movement, women are still women, gays are still gay, the poor are still proudly poor, and besides, it’s pretty hard for Black folks to just blend in.
I encourage you to attend the Poor People’s Hearing, to hear Rev. Barber speak and learn more about the Poor People’s Campaign, on Mon., Oct. 8, 6 p.m. at the Wichita State University Metroplex, 5015 E 29th St N, Wichita, KS.
Yes, I feel the time is ripe for a new movement, but in order for it to be effective, people are going to have to move beyond their factions and work with others on issues they have in common.