A lonely island of poverty

 Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. NPS/Nathan King

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. NPS/Nathan King

This weekend, there are celebrations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy all over the country and, locally, across San Diego.  I went to the Jackie Robinson YMCA's 33rd Annual Awards Breakfast and was grateful to be reminded of the men and women of principle who have helped shape San Diego and our region's diverse landscape.

When I reflect on what we were taught in school growing up about Dr. King's speech and its significance, it is not surprising that we have such a narrowed view of what Dr. King's speech was actually about.

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While the speech was about the desire for racial harmony, it was about much more than that.  I read the full text of Dr. King's speech a few years ago and was struck by the following passage.

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Thinking about that lonely island of poverty in today's terms, it is useful to realize that nearly one quarter of California's African American population lives in poverty today. For African American children, the number is closer to 1-in-3.  As we have come to understand the effects of poverty on childhood brain development, and the role of brain development on lifetime success, it becomes clearer that taking on poverty and creating opportunity is about creating greater equity in our communities. It is not a luxury or an extravagance. Every day I wake up thinking about what additional work we can do as a community to ensure every San Diego child has a right to a strong start and support so that they can reach their full potential.  That strong start is where we make huge gains across our community.

The true test of our ability to realize Dr. King's dream - the desire for equality that ran through his words - lies in our ability to make sure children of all backgrounds are not trapped in a poverty they didn't choose. Here in San Diego, we will only achieve the lofty goals Dr. King laid out by pushing to ensure the tools of success are available to every family - to every child in every neighborhood from birth - so that we break the cycles of poverty and help each other get off that lonely island.

Omar Passons