Words of Comfort in the Face of Hate

President Obama referenced the Martin Luther King Jr. eulogy in Birmingham when offering words of comfort following the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. We are all shocked by the level of hate that visited a religious institution and killed 9 amazing people while practicing their religion just because of the color of their skin.  It was amazing to hear the families forgive the alleged shooter.  This massacre has shocked the consciousness of our society and we hope will lead to some positive changes.  I went back to the full eulogy and found comfort in King's words.

And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour (Yeah Well), we must not despair. (Yeah, Well) We must not become bitter (Yeah, That's right), nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. (Yeah, Yes) Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.

May I now say a word to you, the members of the bereaved families? It is almost impossible to say anything that can console you at this difficult hour and remove the deep clouds of disappointment which are floating in your mental skies. But I hope you can find a little consolation from the universality of this experience. Death comes to every individual. There is an amazing democracy about death. It is not aristocracy for some of the people, but a democracy for all of the people. Kings die and beggars die; rich men and poor men die; old people die and young people die. Death comes to the innocent and it comes to the guilty. Death is the irreducible common denominator of all men.

Here is the full speech.

We know that we have made huge advancements since King was leading the civil rights movement, but we still have a long way to go.  There is still racism; there is still the need for fair housing protections and civil rights protections for minority populations.  There is still a resentment of minority populations and fear of those who are different. Poverty and homelessness are disproportionately impacting minority populations.  We cannot being to solve these issues until we have a truth and reconciliation for the crimes and injustice of nearly 200 years of racism that is the foundation of the United States.  

Brian Davis

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Promissory Note Still Comes Up Short for Housing

50 years ago, African American leaders gathered in DC to seek justice and equality.  Most remember Martin Luther King Jr. delivering  the single best oratory speech since the Gettysburg Address, but John Lewis, A. Phillip Randolph and Roy Wilkins also gave powerful speeches.  Just focusing on the world of housing which was a critical plank in the push for jobs and freedom in 1963 there have been strides, but the United States has a long way to go to repay the debt.  We have seen poverty and homelessness disproportionately impact African Americans for 150 years. This last year, 80% of the County's homeless population were African American while only 30% of the population of the County were black (as defined by the US Census).  Poverty numbers are nearly double for African Americans in Cuyahoga County compared to other races. 

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked "insufficient funds."

The fair housing act was passed to combat discrimination in both private and public housing, but predatory lending had a devastating impact on the dream of owning a house for many Americans of African descent.  We have witnessed African American mayors in many cities in the 1990s and 2000s jailing a large number of African American men who needed a hand up because they were homeless.  Still today, the leadership of Columbia South Carolina is going to jail people who refuse shelter.  This weekend in which we marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Raleigh North Carolina police threatened arrest for feeding homeless and low income individuals who unfortunately are disproportionately African American. Shelters are routinely restricted from certain neighborhoods or entire cities. In almost every city in America (not including Cleveland), if a citizen loses their housing they end up worse than the way we treat animals, because there is no right to live inside in America.  Most have to spend some time on the streets or places not fit for human habitation because when the shelters get full they do not have an overflow system especially in summers. 

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.

Despite the Fair Housing Act, housing projects for low income people are routinely blocked by neighbors.  Out of fear and probably some lingering racist stereotypes, some neighbors on the near West Side of Cleveland blocked a permanent supportive housing project two years ago.  Even the churches in the liberal bastions of Cleveland Hts and Shaker Hts faced opposition when they tried to open their basements to shelter largely black homeless families.  Fixed public housing are still not available in Lyndhurst, Beachwood, or Rocky River which means poor people do not have the diversity of choices in where to live or what schools to send their children when compared to middle or upper income Americans.  It is easy to see that when a child starts out life behind their peers in the suburbs it will be hard for them to catch up when they never have to the opportunity to join hands with a child from another race. 

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

African Americans have a significantly higher unemployment rate today similar to the rate in 1963.  They have home ownership rates that are much lower than the general population (28% fewer African Americans own homes when compared to White populations in 2009).  They have sky-rocketing incarceration rates disproportionate to the population and disproportionate to the criminal population of America.  Prison has become the new public housing where African Americans are forced to find education and health care.  I believe that King and the other speakers would be speaking, mobilizing and marching about the injustice of the criminal justice system today.  We have created our own unforgiving Apartheid system that keeps a segment of the population poor, without a job and without housing for decades. 

We had a national housing policy that Presidents ran on up until 1980.  We do not have a plan to house our own citizens in safe, decent or affordable manner.  We do not have a way to care for disabled individuals even with a place for them to live.  We are moving backward in providing voting rights to African Americans who may want to vote for Mayors or Governors who will do something about the disparity in jobs, housing, or health care.  We have no problem accepting that African Americans will be searched on the streets for no other probable cause then the color of their skin or denied even an application for housing for no other reason then the color of their skin. 

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

Every list of problems facing our society African American are on the top from incarceration, homeless, high school drop out rates, those without health insurance to the hungry, jobless, and impoverished.  Any objective analysis of the state of American Americans has to show open oppression has turned to willful neglect.  We have included the words of King here because of their power even after 50 years.  It seems that the "whirlwinds of revolt" that King referenced are not continuing to shake the foundation of democracy, but instead we have the tornado of acceptance and complacency that marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.  We as a society have come to accept that black neighborhoods will have bad schools and are indifferent to African Americans living with periods of homelessness that destroy families and destabilize the male population.  Only a portion of our society is "free at last."

Brian Davis

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Race, Poverty and Nonprofits in Atlanta

The June 16, 2013 edition of the Atlanta Progressive News has an interesting article about Race, Poverty and Non-Profits in Atlanta.  I am no fan of Atlanta, but Matthew Cardinale has a "devastating critique" of the city and the leading non-profits.  He makes the point that Atlanta Georgia is the "birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement" with the King Center a wealth of history in the new Capital of the South, but is also the city that has led a war on poor people.   He lists an amazing resuscitation of crimes against the poor by the City of Atlanta including prioritizing both the public hospital and the schools, destroying public housing, and making it illegal to be visibly homeless.  

Cardinale asks why the King Center is not more involved in fighting injustice in the City?  He asks why the majority African American City Council allows corporate interests to control the city and push out minority groups.   Cardinale wonders if Dr. Martin Luther King were alive today would he be "shunned...by the powers that be in Atlanta."  He talks about how the mainstream non-profit organizations have turned away from a social justice agenda, and do not try to engage the population in teaching public policy democracy.  Cardinale talks about his issues with the War on Poverty created Community Action Agency, which has lost its "action" part of its mission.   They do the HEAP program similar to the CEOGC program in Cleveland. 

Many of these issues are universal in big cities throughout the United States.  When was the last time anyone voiced an advocacy position from a Community Action Agency?  When was the last time we heard from African American leaders about the injustice of a disproportionate number of African Americans who lose their housing and live in local shelters?  When was the last time a United Way funded organization spoke out about the injustice of a public policy decision?  It is much easier for groups, politicians and the public to not say anything.  After all, you only get your head chopped off if you are willing to stick your neck out to protest.  It is easier to deal with criticism for saying nothing than having to answer to the big money interests behind most non-profits.   It is a good narrative lamenting the achievement of power by many African American leaders, and how they have not fulfilled the living wage, equality at the voting booth, fair housing or health care parity dreams expressed so eloquently by Dr. King in the 1960s. 

Brian Davis

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