[OP-ED]: Dr. King Sized Goal: Unfinished Business for Latinos and African-Americans
A goal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired hundreds of Philadelphians of different races, religions and ages at a Center City rally on April 4th – the 49th anniversary of King’s assassination – where they renewed the fight around an overlooked aspect of King’s advocacy: Silver Rights.
Yes, the legendary leader best known for civil rights activism spent the last years of his life fighting hard to obtain economic improvements for America’s poor – Silver Rights.
When that assassin’s bullet silenced King’s searing eloquence he was in Memphis, Tennessee supporting sanitation workers then on strike for higher wages.
Also, when King was murdered, he was preparing his Poor People’s Campaign; a massive, months-long protest in Washington, DC intended to pressure America’s leaders about the poverty crushing persons of color and whites.
One of the prime concerns of those gathered at that April 4th rally/march was ‘jobs-&-justice’—the same concern that increasingly captivated King’s final years.
“Blacks and Latinos are both underpaid and are not given basic rights in this country,” Rev. Gregory Holston, executive director of POWER and a rally organizer, said during an interview.
“Nationwide, 60 percent of Latinos and 50 percent of blacks make less than $15-per-hour,” Holston noted. “We are in the same ball park.”
Philadelphia has the highest levels of poverty and infant mortality among America’s ten largest cities plus the largest incarceration rate of its citizens, according to alarming facts assembled in a report released last year by POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild).
One of every four Philadelphians lives below the federal poverty line of $24,000, for a family of four. Half of those impoverished households exist in ‘deep poverty’ with annual income of $12,000.
“We are the people who make our cities function yet we work way below minimum wage,” Miguel Andrade, an activist and member of the Latino immigrant community human rights group Juntos, said. “Too many employers take advantage of us…abuse us. This is dismissal.”
In Philadelphia 40 percent of the workforce labor in service sector jobs where 73 percent of those service sector workers earn less than $25,000 annually. Raising the minimum wage to $15-per-hour is important for many rally participants who work low-wage jobs.
That 2016 POWER report stated, “If all service sector workers were paid a living wage, this would bring $4-billion into [Philadelphia’s] economy, thereby drastically reducing poverty, building the tax base by over $150-million and fueling further growth.”
Rev. Holston and Miguel Andrade both emphasized the need for greater solidarity between blacks and Latinos given the similarity of circumstances too many in each community endures.
“A lot of things affecting the black community impacts the immigrant community,” Andrade said. “For example, our people are held in immigration prisons that make private corporations huge profits. This is similar to the mass incarceration that blacks face.”
Dr. King, in a speech delivered hours before his1968 assassination, urged poor people to assert their “power” through voting and using economic boycotts.