Minister suggests honoring Martin Luther King Jr. by addressing structural poverty

The Takeaway

Those looking to honor Martin Luther King Jr. today can visit the new granite statue of him that was erected recently on the National Mall. 

Or they can watch a special NBA game between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Chicago Bulls. And then there’s the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, which features dozens of events all around the country designed to help those in need while honoring King’s legacy.

Rev. William Lamar, the senior pastor at Turner Memorial AME Church in Hyattsville, Md., isn’t so keen on the new memorial. And he’s not fond of the commemorative NBA game either. Lamar would rather see more energy focused on the actual legacy of King — and how it can help us in today’s world and today’s political campaigns.

“When it comes to political discourse, during this presidential campaign season, I don’t hear the language that I think honors Dr. King. I don’t hear much talk about poverty, policy solutions to help with the large number of children in American who are living in low income situations,” he said. “I don’t hear much about improving education. I don’t really hear much about Americans being willing to make the investments necessary to be the kind of nation he envisioned.”

Lamar said that if King were still alive today, he’s probably be playing the roll of a catalyst — provoking and prodding the political and religious leadership to do better in words and deeds.

To really honor King, Lamar said, we need to reinvigorate King’s message of uniting Americans around solving the poverty and vast income inequality that exists in America.

“The shrinking of the middle class. I really think we need more voices. There are people doing this work, I think there is momentum building,” he said. “I hope we’ll continue not only having conversations, but challenging those with means and access and authority and those policymakers to do a better job.”

That’s the central problem, Lamar said. While King was able to integrate lunch counters and public transportation, he at first didn’t worry about whether people would be able to pay for the good and services they were now entitled too. He was just starting to turn to that when he was assassinated.

“I do believe the economic situation is one that has to be addressed,” Lamar said. “One of the challenges, is finding the language that will enable Americans to hear this not as class-warfare. Not as giving away things or a welfare state, but how do we return to a language of community where we realize we’re all responsible for one another.”

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