Dr. King called us to address economic injustice on the path to building a beloved community.
As we celebrate the legacy and impact of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., we rightly see him as a champion of racial justice; a man who gave his life fighting for Black Americans to receive the same dignity, respect, and opportunity afforded to White Americans. He taught us to love one another, to non-violently resist oppressors, and to build a “beloved community” in which all peoples can live in harmony.
All too often, however, we extol Rev. King’s teachings on racial equality while overlooking his ideas on poverty and economic justice. In the last years of his life, King expanded his thoughts and teachings about racial justice to include the systems that produce economic deprivation. He launched the Poor People's Campaign in 1968, a movement that aimed to address economic inequality and poverty for people of all races. He began to focus more on the rights of workers, inadequate housing, and the hyper-concentration of wealth. He spoke more and more about the importance of equal access to economic opportunities, such as employment and education, as a means to address systemic racism and uplift the African American community economically.
Waco is a place with severe economic disparities, and these disparities are inextricable from racial inequality. For example, the most recent data show the median household income for Waco to be about $54,000. When we break it down by race, however, the disparity is large. Households headed by Whites have a median income of about $67,000, while households headed by Black residents have a median income of about $41,000. Likewise, sections of East Waco have median household incomes below $20,000, while areas a mere five miles to the southwest have median incomes over $130,000. As Prosper Waco continues to explore the contours of Waco, our own “beloved community,” these disparities must remain central to the stories we tell and the work we do. We will make no lasting progress without directly addressing these realities.
Rev. King said, “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.” So, as we remember the life and impact of Martin Luther King, let us not simply remember his hope that we love one another. Let us also remember his hope that we can break down the systems that produce poverty and work together to build a world with systems of justice and opportunity. And that work begins right here at home.
Sr. Director of Data & Research