It’s December 22, 2017 and I’m sitting outside a local coffee shop in the heart of the city of Atlanta looking at yet again a new infrastructure go up.
New construction always symbolizes growth, forward movement, and revitalization–which are all great things for a growing city.
But, on the other hand, it also represents a much different picture and set of emotions for those who live on the margins and are slipping through the cracks of life (because of poverty and homelessness). Researchers still say that, “most Americans will spend at least one year below the poverty line at some point between ages 25 and 75, and the poverty rates continue to climb in rural areas.”
This type of data lets us know that poverty affects everyone. It does not discriminate.
The irony is almost heart-wrenching, because while I sit and write this, I’m also gazing at a few people experiencing homelessness sleeping on the ground next to the new building that’s going up.
Now I see a mother walking with her children and while this lady’s children clearly has on clothing that is not suited for the winter season. Geeesh. I feel it on my typing fingertips.
I can see the pain in their eyes as she tries to walk closer to her child hoping to transfer some body heat.
I have many questions circulating around in my mind that I bet Martin Luther King Jr. had in his mind while starting the “Poor People’s Campaign” right before he was assassinated.
How do we live in a country where we build fancy new buildings, but don’t build the people sleeping outside of them homeless?
How do we allow poverty to erode and rip people’s lives apart when we live in the wealthiest country in the world?
Why do kids go to sleep at night with their stomachs screaming for help because of food insecurity?
Why do we continue to commit structural sins against those who are supposed to be our neighbors?
How do we live in a world where 1% percent of the population controls all of the world’s wealth?
As I reflect on Martin’s life, I reminded of the three social ills he stood up against including: poverty, war, and racial injustice.
During the last days of his life, one of his top focuses was poverty! During his speech to receive the Nobel Peace Prize he said these words, “A second evil which plagues the modern world is that of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, it projects it’s nagging, prehensile tentacles in lands and villages all over the world. Almost two thirds of the peoples of the world go to bed hungry at night. They are undernourished, ill-housed, and shabbily clad. Many of them have no houses or beds to sleep in. Their only beds are the sidewalks of the cities and the dusty roads of the villages. Most of these poverty-stricken children of God have never seen a physician or a dentist.”
More than ever, poverty still remains to be a much needed focus in our country. People still struggle to make living wages, homelessness is rising, and we have yet to focus on making building people who are on the bottom of society a top priority.
However, I do believe we are in a time where the younger generation can pick up the torch and carry his legacy on in tremendous ways. Younger people are skilled and have the capabilities of bringing attention to the plights of poverty by using technology to solves problems. The younger generation also have the capabilities of organizing groups of people to love people back to self-sufficiency much faster because of the technological advances.
Just this past week, our organization Love Beyond Walls launched a digital campaign to get a former executive a job that had become homeless and battling with poverty. In the spirit of Martin, we stood up and said enough is enough. We shared his story and within six days we were able to literally change this man’s life by lifting his voice and sharing his story via technology.
Although we’ve been able to see successes like this, there are many more stories of poverty across this country that we need to take a stand for in the most urgent way possible.
As I write this piece, I am asking you (anyone who is reading this) to join the revival of moral a responsibility to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper. Plainly put, we need to take a stand to lift the voices of the poor and build people.
You may be wondering how do I join this uprising to take a stand for those who are voiceless and outcast? I believe the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. teaches us how in three simple ways:
Firstly, we should stand up to injustice in the strongest way possible. If we are not standing against the ills that plague people then we are a part of the problem. King said it this way, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
Secondly, we must love people that do not look like us, sound like us, or even come from where we come from. Martin followed Jesus’ teachings when Christ said that we should “love our neighbors.”
When Jesus exclaims this, Jesus is actually asking us to love people they are not like us. If we truly loved people when would not see buildings go up and communities be gentrified while people’s very lives are decaying.
Third and last, we should sacrifice. Martin Luther King Jr. lived a life of sacrifice. Before he was assassinated, he was giving a voice to those plagued with poverty in the U.S. — Not only did he sacrifice for others by becoming an advocate. He laid down his life for people caught in the cycle of poverty.
More than ever we are being summoned to become advocates for those who have no voice and sacrifice to life them to a place of equality and equity.