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Dr. King, Equity, and Power

Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. His murder precipitated civil unrest throughout the U.S. as thousands of African Americans, of all ages — disillusioned and justifiably full of anger — took to the streets in cities across the country, frustrated by decades of disinvestment, concentrated poverty, joblessness, and anti-black racism. In the days, weeks, and months following King’s murder, those closest to him openly questioned whether or not he had died in vain.

I wrestle with the very same question. Were King alive today, how might he balance significant strides in social progress with the persistence of the racial wealth chasm: Less than two centuries after the passage of the 13th Amendment, the median black household wealth is projected to fall to zero. Might he be surprised to discover that in 2018 he is celebrated as a national hero, when at the time of his murder he had a 63 percent unfavorability rating?

These questions weighed heavily on me the past few weeks. The conditions King fought against persist — and yet I remain steadfast in my commitment to building a future that affords all of us the opportunity to thrive. In fact, I have to believe that King would be inspired and invigorated by the vitality, creativity, and dedication displayed by leaders and communities working to fulfill his dream of a liberated America — and world.

Of course, we cannot achieve equity and liberation without sharing power. BALLE Network Leader Deborah Frieze discovered this in her efforts to help close the racial wealth divide in Boston. As Deborah notes, for those “who wish to transform our economic system from one that extracts value from communities of color to one that operates in solidarity, it’s not good enough to redirect the flow of capital. We also have to redirect the flow of power.”

At BALLE, we believe equity is about power and if we truly want to live in an equitable society, those of us with power will need to give some of it up. We have long advocated for equity and over the past few years we’ve worked to make steps to prioritize equity in our work and throughout our organization. It continues to be a work in progress. In publishing our equity statement — which we intend to iterate and evolve over time — and making our commitments public, we intend to be transparent, receptive to feedback, and eager to learn and improve.

As Dr. King preached, the moral arc of the universe is long. It will bend toward justice through our collective efforts. I’m humbled to be on this journey with all of you.

Categories: The Longview