Wednesday, December 30, 2009

If he visited Duluth today, what would Martin Luther King, Jr. Do?

By Allegra Henderson

If Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today and visited our beautiful city on the Lake, would he see an inclusive community? As he visited businesses, neighborhoods and schools would he see people of color included at all levels?

Monday January 18 marks the 24th observance of the federal holiday, Martin Luther King Day. We celebrate this great man because his ideas and achievements were a powerful force. He helped eliminate the American Jim Crow system of segregation and racial discrimination. But have we come to celebrate him as a historical figure?

What does Dr. King inspire in our community to increase racial harmony and understanding? If King came to Duluth and was not recognized, would he experience discrimination as he sought services and accommodations? Would he feel welcome and encouraged to fully participate in all areas of life?

Dr. King’s legacy and vision for social justice is both controversial and often misunderstood. Using his deeply inspiring oratory skills, his dream of racial equality was conveyed in his most memorable speech during the March on Washington for JOBS and FREEDOM. He spoke against both the overt and subtle ills of racism. While we honor his oratory messages, would we be surprised if he organized sit-ins and rallies in our Duluth of 2010?

Minnesotans in general enjoy a good life, but currently the disparities in education, healthcare, housing and income between whites and people of color are some of the worse in the nation, according to a 2007 “Minnesota Legislative Report Card on Racial Equality.” In Duluth, the average African American household income is less than half that of whites. Many African Americans have not been promoted beyond entry-level jobs. This may be happening because they are being systemically excluded from the labor pool because of stereotypes, discrimination and lack of preparation.

Which Duluth leaders would King seek to gain understanding and take action in our community? Would he perceive any successes and hard won battles with regards to race relations? Would he organize protests, work to change legislation, organize a march on the Capitol in St. Paul for JOBS and FREEDOM?

Let’s be inspired and remove some of the denial around race relations. Let’s validate the experience of Native Americans, African Americans, Asians, Hispanic and Latino Americans living, working and raising their families in Duluth.

Let’s ask ourselves, “What would MLK do?”