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Martin Luther King's final dream: to 'outlaw poverty'

Dan Hoxworth
Dan Hoxworth

As we prepare to celebrate the life, leadership and vision of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., we have a unique opportunity to reflect on his teachings. King led this nation in a struggle for justice with a focus on racial equality. After the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, King continued to wage a campaign to "outlaw poverty." With strong spiritual conviction, he shared his argument with religious justification in his final book, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" in 1967. His words resonate today.

"Deeply woven in to the fiber of our religious tradition is the conviction that we are souls of infinite metaphysical value. If we accept this as a profound moral fact, we cannot be content to see hunger, to see [people] victimized with ill health, when we have the means to help them. Rich and poor, we have entered the same mysterious gateway of human birth, into the same adventure of mortal life. The agony of the poor impoverishes the rich. We are inevitably our brother's keeper because we are our brother's brother, [we are our sister's sister]. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."


It was this dream of economic justice that led King to Memphis, Tenn., to join the sanitation workers in protests for better wages. King knew that it was important to walk with people in poverty. "Outlawing poverty" was the cause for which he knowingly, willingly, and, ultimately, gave his life.

This year, as we celebrate the legacy of his life's work, we have an opportunity to renew our commitment to fulfilling his final dream. King's sacrifices to fulfill his final dream are alive today. Today's vision is to create a Minnesota where all thrive in 2020.

Principles and beliefs outlined
The basis of this effort is found in a document entitled "A Common Foundation: Shared Principles for Work on Overcoming Poverty." Similar to King's teachings, this document outlines the religious principles and beliefs underlying the effort. The document states that "a remarkable convergence of fundamental principles that call us to common work in combating poverty and walking with people living with poverty." "A Minnesota Without Poverty," a statewide, interfaith movement and a program of the Minnesota Council of Churches, is dedicated to "create a more whole and just society" where "no person is forced to live in poverty."

In such a Minnesota, "all people are provided those things that protect human dignity and make for healthy life: adequate food and shelter, meaningful work, safe communities, healthcare, and education." To date, more than 6,000 Minnesotans have signed the Common Foundation.
 
The process has begun. Responding to the faith community, the Minnesota Legislature created the Legislative Commission to End Poverty in Minnesota by 2020 to study the realities of poverty, and to recommend how to eliminate poverty. The commission's recommendations show a comprehensive and cohesive effort to truly end poverty by 2020. These recommendations share a common belief with the A Minnesota Without Poverty's "A Common Foundation," which states that government "is neither solely responsible for alleviating poverty, nor removed from this responsibility … and is the vehicle by which people order their lives based on their shared values."

An opportunity to rethink our values
In the short time since the time the commission was formed, the world order, as we have known it, has been turned upside down — the mortgage meltdown, credit crunch, stock market fall, rising unemployment, and rising number of uninsured — are frightening scary reminders of our turbulent time. But out of turbulence comes opportunity to rethink our values and reassess how we are living them. King called us to action when he wrote, "We must rapidly begin the movement from a "thing"-oriented society to a "person" oriented society. … A civilization can flounder as readily in the face of moral and spiritual bankruptcy as it can through financial bankruptcy. … This may well be our last chance to choose between chaos and community."

Appropriately, on Wednesday, Jan. 21, from 3 to 4 p.m. at the Landmark Center in St. Paul and the St. Joseph Catholic Gathering Place in Moorhead, Minn., just two days after the national holiday that commemorates King's legacy, the final recommendations of the Legislative Commission will be launched. A Minnesota Without Poverty invites you to join other leaders from the business, government, nonprofit and faith sectors to learn about these significant recommendations being made to end poverty by 2020.

On Jan. 21, become a part of the anti-poverty movement begun by King more than 30 years ago! Ending poverty is possible when we show up, stand up, sign up and speak up. Let us finish the final chapter in King's legacy and choose community and not chaos by "outlawing poverty."

Dan H. Hoxworth is chair of the Economic Justice Initiative of White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church and a member of the Media and Outreach Committee of A Minnesota Without Poverty.


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