By Onleilove Alston
“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” -Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”(Delivered April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City)
On Tuesday January 20th, 2009 I was blessed to be in Washington, D.C. to witness history. As a descendant of one of the largest slave holding families (the Alstons of North and South Carolina) it was surreal to realize that less than 200 years after the Emancipation the first African-American president was sworn in on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible. I have been overwhelmed with emotion and still cannot believe that the new first family looks like my own.
I am very proud of how far African-Americans have come towards freedom and though a major part of Dr. King’s dream was realized we are still not at the Promised Land. Many leaders from the Civil Rights movement have alluded to fact that it has been 40 years since Dr. King’s assassination.
This fact has made me think about the Exodus story which has given African-Americans encouragement and a framework for their experience in America.
The Exodus story is the foundation of the Black Church, and I think that it can provide important insights for how we as an American people can make it to the Promised Land Dr. King preached about in his Mountain Top sermon given the night before his death.
Though the Exodus account ends with the Children of Israel entering the Promised Land, not everyone was able to enter. Moses himself had to be left behind, and some from the older generation passed without entering the Promised Land. As a nation if we truly want to enter into the Promised Land Dr. King preached about, we have to continue to challenge the three ills Dr. King discussed: Poverty, Militarism, and Racism. We have to hold our president accountable to addressing these ills through his policies.
In my opinion, we need to have a revolution of values, a revolution that places the least of these at the top of our agendas. The time has passed for the Greed is Good ethic that has characterized the last twenty years, the time has passed for patronizing charity, and the time is now to reignite Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign. The Poor People’s Campaign brought poor African-Americans, Whites, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans together to converge on the nation’s capital to challenge our government to address the needs of the poor. As people of faith we must challenge this new administration to deal with the scourge of poverty once and for all.
With the current economic crisis the ranks of the poor are growing to include not just the homeless or the welfare mother, but to include the former Lehman Brothers employee, or our suburban neighbor. Now that the issue of poverty is at the forefront we can begin to address issues of sexism, racism, and militarism; which all feed into poverty.
Now is the time to challenge President Obama to continue the unfinished work of the Poor People’s Campaign, lest we are left behind like Moses and the Children of Israel who did not completely yield to God’s call and missed entering into the Promised Land. Will we yield to Christ’s call to “preach good news to the poor” or will we be left behind?
Organizations dedicated to ending poverty:
- The Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary
- Sojourners Mobilization to End Poverty
- Micah Challenge
- New York Faith & Justice
- Domestic Workers United
- Christian Community Development Association
If you liked this article, check out: Poverty and Possibility
Onleilove is a native of Brooklyn, New York. She is a student in the dual M.Div/MSW program at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University. In NYC she organizes with the Poverty Initiative and New York Faith & Justice.