Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed that he had a dream 50 years ago. But he was no innovator. His “I Have A Dream” speech revived the same words written on July 4th, 1776, a sentence that the U.S. Constitution and our country tries to live up to today: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This exact message, this American dream, resonates with everyone today. Not only does it resonate with Democrats, Republicans and independents, but also it is a message that must be embraced within our country and our government because we need it.

As much as I would agree that both blacks and our country overall have progressed in the right direction over the last 50 years, there is a lot of work to be done. We have a black president, but we still have racial inequality through economic inequality where around 20 percent of black families still struggle in poverty.

It is embarrassing that we live in the wealthiest country in the world, according to our powerful GDP, and yet a large group in our country still struggles from day to day to survive in the “land of opportunity.”

But I’m not just going to cite statistics and say that blacks are worse off than most other racial groups. I’m not going to point out the problems and leave it without solutions like most in the media do.

The difficulty lies in the solution to poverty. It lies in the question of how. How do we fix an issue that is so prevalent in our country and so relevant to the words of Martin Luther King and our Founders?

There is a certain component of our government that prevents progress. There are certain programs created in the 1960s to fight poverty that have only prolonged poverty in the long run. It’s the welfare state.

Poverty is a multi-faceted issue and has no silver bullets. The Great Society has not fixed poverty. President Johnson stated that  ”We are fully aware that this program will not eliminate all the poverty in America in a few months or a few years. Poverty is deeply rooted and its causes are many.” He also stated that it can’t be done by government alone.

But what we’ve had is only a government oriented reaction to poverty. Because there is a vast commitment to entitlement spending that dominates 62% of the federal budget. Has that 62% from Medicaid, food stamps, or unemployment benefits really helped those in poverty? Government supplies its handouts, but fails to provide the tools necessary for social mobility.

Look at the percentage of Americans living in poverty. 46.2 million Americans currently live in poverty, compared to 40 million in 1959. Blacks contribute the most to this 46.2 million figure.

There is little progress. We need to truly analyze government programs and see what can be done to increase employment, lower crime, and promote social mobility.

Government handouts are not the solution, as we have seen in the Great Society reforms. Government help must be given, but only on a temporary basis.

The federal government should take a step back and really allow state and local governments to target areas hit the hardest by poverty, like the inner cities. The closer the government is to the people, the stronger the demand from its constituents. Local municipalities will then be able to escape federal regulations set in place through different bureaucratic agencies and implement their own reforms.

Local governments will need to promote education by keeping schools open instead of closed (a current problem in Chicago) give the private sector incentives to move into impoverished areas through tax benefits, and eliminate drug incarcerations that tear families apart and hit minorities the hardest. We will only progress culturally through stronger families.

It’s time to talk about these solutions, but our Congress and our leaders in government only point to the problems. They have no clear idea on how to fix these issues, but fixing them is what Martin Luther King Jr. really wanted. As much as we like to talk about him addressing racism, he also spoke equally eloquently on economic disparities.

As King said, “There is another thing closely related to racism that I would like to mention as another challenge. We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world.”

As much as we remember King for his progress against racism, poverty is still the most pervasive enemy that targets blacks and minorities the worst. Let us show compassion. Let us live up to the words written by our founders in 1776. Let us fix poverty. Let us embrace equal opportunity so that any American, black, white, asian, hispanic, male or female, gay or straight is treated equally before the law. Let us show the world that the American Dream is alive, well, and vibrant in everyone’s eyes.

Let us live up to that dream.


Alex Uzarowicz | Knox College | @AUzarowicz