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George Curry

Marching Orders for the Future

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(NNPA) Now that we’ve had two events at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, it is important to remember a few things about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. beyond his “I Have a Dream” speech.

The question is always asked: What happens after the marches are over? Demonstrators left Washington, D.C. in 1963 determined to change the American landscape. Consequently, we had passage of the 1965 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Those laws were passed not because of a speech in the nation’s capital, but because of the hard work and dedication of people at the local, state and national level to bring about change.

While the “I Have a Dream” speech might have been Dr. King’s most popular oration, it was not his most substantive one. In 1963, Dr. King etched a prosaic picture of what America should look like in the future. But a far more important one was his “Mountaintop” speech, delivered in Memphis the night before he was assassinated.

In that speech, Dr. King outlined a plan for economic empowerment and told us how to strengthen our institutions to accomplish that goal. He reminded us, “Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal.”

Dr. King explained, “We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles, we don’t need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, ‘God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda—fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”

He urged us to “strengthen our Black institutions” by patronizing them.

Instead of placing so much emphasis on what Dr. King said in 1963, we should look at what he was doing at the time of his death. He wasn’t trying to create a special commission or hold conferences on how to strengthen the middle class. He was organizing a Poor Peoples Campaign, a trek to Washington, D.C. to dramatize the urgent need to help the least among us.

After President Lyndon B. Johnson shifted his focus from the War on Poverty to the war in Vietnam, Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) launched an effort in 1968 to seek economic justice for poor Blacks, Whites, Latinos and Native Americans. The idea was to have another March on Washington that would force political leaders to address the issue of poverty.

“We ought to come in mule carts, in old trucks, any kind of transportation people can get their hands on,” King said. “People ought to come to Washington, sit down if necessary in the middle of the street and say, ‘We are here; we are poor; we don’t have any money; you have made us this way… and we’ve come to stay until you do something about it.”

SCLC continued the Poor People’s March after King’s death, erecting a tent city on the Mall. After six weeks, demonstrators were evicted.

Today, the poor are still suffering. Poverty is defined as a family of four being able to live off of $23,021 a year. Today, a record 46.2 million people –15 percent of the U.S. population – are living in poverty.

One of the goals of the 1963 March on Washington was a minimum wage that could lift a family of four out of poverty. They demanded that the minimum wage of $1.15 an hour be increased to $2 an hour. As a report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) titled, “The Unfinished March: An Overview,” noted, “The inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage today is about $2.00 less than it was at its peak value in 1968.”

Worse than living on below-poverty wages is to have no job at all.

“Even when the national unemployment rate has been low, the African American unemployment rate has been high,” the EPI report stated. “For example, in 2000, when the national unemployment rate was 4.0 percent, and the non-Hispanic white unemployment rate was 3.1 percent, the unemployment rate of non-Hispanic blacks was still 7.6 percent. Put another way, even when the economy was booming in 2000, the black unemployment rate was still higher than the national unemployment rate during recessions.”

When he was assassinated, Dr. King was helping organize garbage workers in Memphis. He was not dreaming because he was not asleep. We honor him by continuing his work, not by merely continuing to recite his “I Have a Dream” speech.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Why We're Still Marching

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(NNPA) For a while, it looked like the 50th anniversary observance of the March on Washington would expose a sharp split in the Civil Rights Movement. Al Sharpton jumped ahead of his colleagues by cornering Martin Luther King III and the two of them announced a March on Washington for Saturday, August 24. Other civil rights leaders were planning events around that time and complained privately that Sharpton and Martin III had locked up key funding from major labor groups, a primary source of funding for the movement.

A series of high-profile events – the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutting the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, remanding a University of Texas affirmative action case back to the appellate level for stricter scrutiny and George Zimmerman being found not guilty of second-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of 17-year-old unarmed Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. – left African-Americans and their supporters clamoring for an outlet to express their disgust.

Suddenly, the march organized by Sharpton became the focal point. With Sharpton still working on other leaders in the background, urging them to come aboard, the pieces began to quickly fall in place. At this point, it looks like all of the major civil rights leaders – including Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National League; Charles Steele, CEO of Dr. King’s old organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition; Ben Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, among others – will join Sharpton and King as headliners of the Aug. 24 march.

Of course, there are the usual detractors who argue, as conservative talk show host Armstrong Williams does, that we’ve been marching so long that we should have reached wherever we were marching to by now.

The reality is that we haven’t reached our destination. Black unemployment has been twice that of Whites for the past five decades. The progress made by expanding the Black middle class has been eroded by the Great Recession and Blacks are profiled while walking the streets of New York City or Sanford, Fla.

At a panel at the recent National Urban League convention assessing the progress made since the original March on Washington, Al Sharpton said, “You say why march about voting? Well, that’s how we got it the first time. We did not get voting rights at a cocktail sip, trying to have racial harmony sessions. We got it by organizing and galvanizing and the only way we are going to make changes is by organizing and galvanizing.”

Let’s not forget that Trayvon Martin’s name became a household word only after marches led by Sharpton, college students and activists around the nation, insisting that George Zimmerman be brought to trial for murder.

It’s the combination of marching and a specific agenda that leads to change. And while we’re on the subject of marches, not everyone marched in the demonstrations of the 1960s. There was not unity among civil rights leaders – Roy Wilkins, for example, was intensely jealous of Dr. King – and many people did not jump on the King bandwagon until after he was assassinated in Memphis and lived thereafter through his “I Have a Dream” speech and on U.S. postage stamps.

Unfortunately, there will be two observations of the 1963 March. One on Aug. 24 co-chaired by Sharpton and Martin, III and another one, more of a celebration of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, on Aug. 28, the actual date of the original March. President Obama, who has had difficulty in the past uttering Dr. King’s name in public, will speak at the second event organized by Bernice King, the sole surviving daughter of the slain civil rights leader.

To those who question the need for another march, they should examine a graphic created by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) that compares goals of the 1963 March with today’s reality:

  • Goal: We Demand an end to ghettos. Reality: We still live in ghettos. Forty-five percent of poor Black children but only 12 percent of poor White children live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty.
  • Goal: We Demand an End to School Segregation. Reality: Seventy-four percent of Black children attend schools that are 50-100 percent non-White, resulting in fewer resources than majority White schools.
  • Goal: We March for Jobs for All. Reality: In 2012, the Black unemployment rate –14 percent – was 2.1 times the White unemployment rate (6.6 percent).
  • Goal: We March for a Living Wage. Reality: The minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, well below the $11.06 an hour a full-time worker needed in 2011 to keep a family of four out of poverty (36 percent of Black workers make poverty-level wages).

That’s why we’re still marching.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Jackie Jackson: A Mother's Love

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(NNPA) On Wednesday, Aug. 14, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. was scheduled to be sentenced to prison in connection with using campaign funds for personal use. Dozens of letters were sent to the judge on his behalf, but none more touching than the one written by his mother, dated May 28.

She began by noting, “I am Jacqueline Jackson, the mother of five children, one of whom I am writing about, my son Jesse Jackson, Jr.”

Her letter shed light not only on her son’s problems growing up in his famous father’s shadow, but provided a peek into the family’s early struggles.

“…My husband was granted a Rockefeller Scholarship to attend Chicago Theological Seminary. With a family of almost three in 1964, we arrived at McGifford House on Woodlawn Avenue in Chicago. By the time my son was born, my husband was attending school and organizing the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (K.O.C.O) and was its first Executive Director (an unsalaried position),” Mrs. Jackson wrote. “Because of the success of this organization, and based on the recommendation of Rev. James Bevel, my husband was hired to work for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for $75. If my memory serves me correctly, that was his weekly salary. To sustain our family, we were given food baskets by our Pastor, Rev. Clay Evans and the members of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, where my son Jesse Jr. chose later to be baptized. I learned to provide the other necessities by frequenting resale shops, lawn sales, learning to preserve and can foods, and sewing and mending things that did not fit. But most of all, I learned to express my appreciation and gratitude for the kindness of others.”

Just as her family struggled in the early stages, so did Jesse, Jr., Mrs. Jackson wrote.

“Contrary to the belief of many who only see us as we are today from a televised perspective, Jesse Jr., was not born with a silver spoon nor was he born privileged. Jesse Jr., my second child and my eldest son, was born during the turbulent sixties, the period of terrible hatred for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and those who followed Dr. King and the principles of non-violence he espoused. Our son, Rev. Jackson’s namesake, inherited his friends and enemies. As a child, Jesse Jr. held jobs waiting tables, cleaning floors and other odd jobs. Growing up in the shadow of his father, Jesse Jr. has always tried desperately to live up to the expectations we have had for him. I think perhaps too hard, he has tried.”

And she recalled that Jesse, Jr. was not always successful.

She wrote, “I recall how disappointed Jesse Jr. was when he discovered he could not enter high school without repeating the 9th grade. My husband finally convinced him to accept this as his challenge. Rev. Jackson said, ‘Sometimes you must go down to come up’ and Jesse Jr. prevailed. He completed his undergraduate studies in three years, received a Juris Doctor degree and received his Master’s degree in Theology. His passion for the word of God led me to believe and hope he would find his niche in Theology. However, he chose public service, the United States Congress, and we are proud of his choice and the good he accomplished during his 17 years of perfect attendance and sterling voting record.”

She recalled when Jesse Jr.’s illness was made painfully clear to her.

“I received a call from my daughter Santita, who requested that I check on Jesse Jr. because she was concerned for him,” Mrs. Jackson recounted. “Sometime during the last weeks of June 2012. I did as she requested, and found my son grossly underweight and in poor health. He asked that I take him to the office because he had an upcoming vote. When I took him to his Capital Hill office to prepare for the vote, the office was in total disarray, which was most unusual for my son. A security guard approached me and said, ‘Please take care of Jesse. Last week he collapsed on the floor of the House and was taken to the hospital by ambulance.’ My heart sank. No one had shared with me my son’s condition. I called my husband. We told our son to ‘come with us. We are going to get help for you.’ He did not offer any resistance which made us know his condition was dire. Everything that has happened since that day is public record. My son is much better now.”

She closed her letter with this paragraph: “My mother says, ‘there is always some good in all things.’ There was a transforming moment during the horrific trial experience. As my son Jesse Jr. faced the judge, he turned around to look for his father’s support just as he did when he had to repeat the 9th grade. His lips shaped the words, ‘I love you and I am so sorry.’ I shall never forget that moment because my heart leapt. I then realized the joy and love that sustains all mothers. I love my son. May God guide your decision.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

The Riches of International Travel

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(NNPA) CASABLANCA, Morocco – When I left Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C. last Thursday afternoon on Air France Flight #39, changed planes at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, and arrived Friday morning in the capital city of Rabat aboard Air France Flight # 1258, I knew I was in for an enriching experience that always accompanies international travel.

Since last August, I have traveled to Brazil, China, South Africa, Zimbabwe and now Morocco. And the year isn’t over yet. Largely because of my career as a journalist, I have also traveled to Cairo, Beijing, Shanghai, Vienna, Bangkok, Accra, Paris, Rome, Kuala Lumpur, London, Havana, Dakar, Nuremburg, Montreal, Vancouver and Doha, Mexico City, among other places.

Growing up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., my Uncle Buddy Harris, who was in the Navy, was the first person to whet my appetite for international travel. He would send cards and letters to Big Mama and for some reason, I remember him bringing back a colorful jacket from Okinawa, Japan. I couldn’t have been more than 7- or 8-years-old at the time. As I grew older, Uncle Buddy would regale me with stories about his time in the Navy. And my stepfather, William H. Polk, introduced me to the wonders of Africa.

On the domestic front, I was excited whenever my Uncle Percy Harris would let me tag along with him and Big Mama to Johnson City, Tenn. to visit his sister, my Aunt Julia Mae. Although in the state just north of Alabama, Johnson City had desegregated its schools in the early 1960s when Alabama was bringing up the rear, ranking ahead of only Mississippi in education.

I knew that one day I wanted to travel like Uncle Buddy. Today, he marvels at all the places I visit, but refuses to accept the credit he deserves for stirring that interest in me.

More than anything else, traveling abroad reminds me that we live in a global society and people elsewhere know a great deal about the U.S. while we are too ignorant and arrogant to study other societies.

On a trip to China last December, first-grade students in Xi’an hurriedly ran to visit a group of Black journalists from the U.S. so that they could practice their English. Students around the globe also learn to speak English at an early age. And where does that leave Americans who stubbornly cling to the misguided notion that others should learn our language but we shouldn’t learn other languages?

Once on a trip to Paris, I overheard a huffy White American woman complain: “Why don’t they speak English here?” She was in France complaining about them speaking their native language.

Whether seeing the pyramids in Egypt or visiting the Vatican in Italy, there is so much to learn about history and other cultures. Visiting the birthplace of civilization can’t help but instill pride, something that can benefit our Black youth in particular.

No trip has been more emotional than visiting Goree Island, on the edge of Dakar, Senegal. Standing in the “Door of No Return” is a chilling reminder of what our ancestors faced and, more important, survived.

There is never enough time to fully experience any new destination. For example, on the trip to Morocco, I spent most of the time in the capital city of Rabat, only a few hours in Casablanca, and a day in Dakhla, a 3.5 hour flight to the South.

As our traveling group learned, there are even surprises within surprises. About 30 minutes on the outskirts of Dakhla is Dakhla Attitude, an impressive resort snuggled in the middle of the desert. After turning off of the main road, visitors are surrounded by desert as far as the eye can see. Then, after a 10-minute bumpy ride through the sand, this gorgeous resort suddenly comes into view. It features Dragon Camp, three bungalows, with a striking view of the ocean. Windsurfing and kitesurfing are popular sports in this hideaway. There is boating, sailing and an opportunity to eat with a perfect view of the pristine water.

Even after visiting three cities in Morocco, my trip back home left me wanting more. I wanted to see other cities as well. Marrakesh, the Holly city of Fez and Tangier, where the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet, were high on my list.

Just as my Uncle Buddy introduced me to a world that I could only imagine as a kid, I am eager to introduce my grandchildren – Neyah and Austin – and my nephews and nieces to the wonders of international travel. I want them to see everything from “The Door of No Return” in Senegal to Egypt, the cradle of democracy, to the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Vatican in Rome.

Uncle Buddy told me about so many interesting places. In my role as PaPa and Uncle George, I would enjoy taking the young ones on a live civics trip, knowing that once they have that experience, they will pass it down to the next generation.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

Focus on Poverty, not the Middle Class

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(NNPA) Several of us were sharing our views on radio Sunday night with Gary Byrd when my friend and colleague Cash Michaels urged us to remember that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated while organizing poor people.

This is a good time to remember that as President Obama seeks ways to strengthen the middle class and civil rights leaders focus on celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Aug. 28, 1963 March on Washington.

The idea of organizing a Poor People’s Campaign was discussed during a Nov. 27-31, 1967 Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) planning session in Frogmore, S.C. With the nation’s attention focused on the Vietnam War, Dr. King wanted to redirect the conversation to what the Bible calls the least among us by focusing on jobs and income.

Dr. King’s idea was to bring poor people from all over the country to Washington, D.C. in order to put a face on the suffering of people. While still firmly committed to nonviolence, his plan was for a dramatic presence that would disrupt traffic and shut down the nation’s capital.

“We ought to come in mule carts, in old trucks, any kind of transportation people can get their hands on. People ought to come to Washington, sit down if necessary in the middle of the streets and say, ‘We are here; we are poor; we don’t have any money; you have made us this way,’” King said. “And we’ve come to stay until you do something about it.”

Just as his close advisers had urged him not to give his “I Have a Dream Speech” in 1963, variations of which they had heard earlier, most of Dr. King’s inner circle disagreed with his decision to embark on a Poor People’s Campaign.

Children activists and former civil rights attorney Marian Wright Edelman recalled in her book, Unfinished Business, “William Rutherford, who had organized the Friends of SCLC in Europe in 1966 and was appointed executive director of SCLC during the summer of 1967, declared that, ‘basically almost no one on the staff thought that the next priority, the next major movement, should be focused on poor people or the question of poverty in America.’ At the time James Bevel wanted to remain focused on combating slums in northern cities, Hosea Williams promoted voter registration campaigns in the South, Jesse Jackson wanted to continue to develop Operation Breadbasket, and Andrew Young worried that SCLC’s budget of under a million dollars necessitated smaller campaigns in the South.”

But Dr. King forged ahead, calling for $30 billion to be spent on anti-poverty measures, employment and housing construction. King was helping organize garbage workers in Memphis when he was assassinated. Ralph D. Abernathy, his successor and close friend, continued with plans for the Poor People’s Campaign.

Instead of the militant protest Dr. King had envisioned, however, the highlight of the Poor People’s March to Washington was not shutting down the capital, but the erection of Resurrection City, a collection of tents pitched in D.C. Various executive agencies were lobbied on behalf of the poor and leaders called for an Economic Bill of Rights. The shantytown was disbanded after six weeks.

In the view of many observers, Dr. King posed a greater threat to the power structure when he began organizing poor Blacks and Whites. But there is an even better opportunity to unite poor people today because so many Whites have become impoverished as a result of a recession and high unemployment.

Poverty is officially defined as a family of four living off of $23,021 or less a year. Today, a record 46.2 million people –15 percent of the U.S. population – are considered poor. The Associated Press reported:

For the first time since 1975, the number of White single-mother households living in poverty with children has surpassed or equaled Black ones in the past decade. Since 2000, the poverty rate among working-class Whites has grown faster than among working-class non-Whites, rising 3 percentage points to 11 percent.

Still, poverty among working-class non-Whites remains about double that of Whites.

Mark Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, believes Dr. King was on to something when he sought to unite poor people across racial lines.

“Poverty is no longer an issue of ‘them,’ it’s an issue of ‘us.’ he told the Associated Press. “Only when poverty is thought of as a mainstream event, rather than a fringe experience that just affects Blacks and Hispanics, can we really begin to build broader support for programs that lift people in need.”

This is no time to keep Dr. King frozen in the memory of the 1963 March on Washington or his “I Have a Dream” speech while neglecting his true calling to eradicate poverty five years later. As he said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.

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