Carolyn Hopkins of Stockton, Calif., holds a sign honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as people gather near the Lincoln Memorial for the National Action to Realize the Dream Aug. 24 in Washington.
Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Last week, thousands of people returned to our nation’s capital to celebrate the many legal, political and social successes accomplished by civil rights leaders over the past five decades. We also reflected on how far we have to go to attain King’s dream of freedom and equality for all.
Five decades after the march, systemic racism continues and people of color bear a disproportionate burden of unemployment. Twice as many black men are unemployed compared to whites, a stubborn trend that hasn’t changed much since the 1970s.
Higher unemployment means increased poverty. We know that poverty drives up risk for other problems– drug use, lack of education, health risks, gangs, crime. And, accordingly, these problems disproportionately affect people of color.
Racism stems from fear and ignorance, but can often be solved so simply — with peaceful conversation that unites different cultures.
But race is a touchy subject in this predominantly white region, in part because people never learned how to engage in the right kind of dialogue. Dante James, director of Portland’s Office of Equity and Human Rights, puts Portland 20 years behind other metropolitan areas in the elimination of inequitable racial policies and practices. That’s counterintuitive for a region that prides itself on forward thinking.
As the civil rights movement charges ahead, let us lead. We must recommit to be agents of racial justice, carrying on the legacy of faith leaders like Martin Luther King. Let’s start the conversation.