January 17, 2022 Blog

MLK’s Legacy

Martin Luther King Jr. was the epitome of a selfless leader. His legacy continues to live on and inspires activists across the country to push for a better tomorrow. It is because of Dr. King and so many others’ sacrifices that I am here today attending a predominantly white public university and working in fields that have long been white-led. Today, many people believe that we are living in a post-racial society. Racial victories, such as having the first African American President, have created a sentiment that race no longer needs to be addressed in America. On this day of honoring the late Dr. King, I challenge people to ask the question: if Martin Luther King Jr. was alive today, what would he think of the current state of America? Let’s reflect.

Today, nearly 20 percent of Black Americans live below the poverty line, more than any other race. Black Americans are twice as likely to grow up without financial assets or resources than their white counterparts. These findings are not coincidental, as both historic and current oppressive tactics have intentionally prevented black families from growing their wealth. It was found in a 1991 Federal Reserve study of 6.4 million home mortgage loan applications that there were wide-spread systematic patterns of racial discrimination in the countries bank lending system. On average, African Americans pay .54 percent higher interest rates on homes than white Americans; this systemic flaw was estimated to have cost Black families 21.5 billion by 2011. Loan and housing discrimination have had ripple effects on Black families as they were driven into neighborhoods and communities deemed undesirable. Because property taxes make up the main funding for public education, Black families continue to suffer from inequities in education because of their socioeconomic status. Although the Brown v. Board of Education decision ruled that segregation in schools is unconstitutional, most children today still attend public schools that are in racially concentrated districts, either being majority white or majority minority. Given that many Black communities remain impoverished and segregated, we see clear educational gaps amongst African-American children. The Moving to Opportunity experiment showed that black families that were relocated out of “inner-cities” and into the suburbs had higher employment rates, lower school dropout rates, and higher college acceptance rates. 

The repercussions of such inequity have created  concerning trends in the modern era. Black communities are plagued with over-policing and mass incarceration. Today in the United States, one third of all Black men will be arrested at least once in their lifetime. African Americans are disproportionately imprisoned and receive harsher sentences for crimes compared to their white counterparts. Data shows that white and black people sell and use drugs at virtually the same rates, yet black people are 6.5 times more likely to be incarcerated for drug related crimes. In further comparison to white Americans, black Americans are twice as likely to die from gun violence and 14x more likely to be wounded by gun violence. As we dive deeper into social issues and the history of our country, the correlation between systemic racism and racial injustice strengthens. 

As we circle back to the presented question, let us be mindful of the sacrifices that MLK Jr. and so many others made to get where we are today. With that acknowledgement, we must also do our due diligence and recognize that the work is far from over. From gun violence to climate change, racial equity must be at the forefront of our efforts. Failure to do so means failure to bring transformative change that improves the lives of all. I encourage everyone to take this day and reflect on what you can do in further fulfilling Dr. King’s vision and making liberty and justice for all a reality. 

— Brad Blackburn is a Legislative Fellow at the Alliance.