On January 19, 2015, we will celebrate the eighty-sixth anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., one of our country’s most influential civil rights leaders. We are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March, which eventually led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark piece of federal legislation that removed barriers to voting for African Americans and other protected classes. Both come on the heel of last year’s 50th anniversary commemorations of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
As we reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the March from Selma to Montgomery, let us not forget that though our country has made significant progress toward actualizing Dr. King’s Dream and President Johnson’s War on Poverty we have our work cut out for us. Now, more so than ever before, we must double down on our efforts to keep the Dream alive by ensuring safe, healthy, and resilient children, families, and communities.
Just this past year our country was shaken by the senseless and indefensible killings of young African American males at the hands of those sworn to protect their lives. This problem is not relegated to just Ferguson and New York City. According to the Chicago Reporter, new data released by the City of Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority reveal that African Americans are 10 times more likely to be shot by a Chicago police officer than a white person.
In the last decade, as a result of the housing market crash and economic recession, African Americans were the only group who actually witnessed a statistically significant number of people move from the middle class to poverty. In Illinois 31 percent of the 285,000 residents who live in poverty is African American; even though we only make up 12 percent of the population. More disturbingly, 27 percent of African American children in Illinois live in poverty. And just last month, the Pew Research Center confirmed what we many of us already knew – African Americans did not fare as well as other groups during the economic recovery. In fact, while white households enjoyed a 2.4% increase in median wealth from 2010 to 2013, African American households experienced a dramatic 33.7% decline in median wealth.
So what can we do to keep the Dream alive? Let’s focus on developing and funding policies and programs that mitigate poverty, move people out of poverty, and keep people out of poverty. Because the road to poverty is a complex, multi-dimensional problem our policies and programs must have a coordinated and multi-pronged approach that recognizes the linkage between living-wage employment, fair housing, high quality education, and universal healthcare and the role each play in lifting and keep people out of poverty.
At the Illinois African American Coalition for Prevention, our dream is safe, healthy and resilient children, families, and communities. Our dream relies on our ability to provide prevention-based solutions that help children learn, parents effectively parent, and communities thrive. Prevention, for us, means access to high quality education for children at every stage of learning. Prevention, for us, means every parent creating a home environment that promotes the social, emotional, and cognitive well-being of their children. Prevention, for us, means improving health outcomes through education and improved access to quality health care. Prevention, for us, means law enforcement genuinely working hand-in-hand with community to protect our children and families from wanton violence. And last, but not least, prevention, for us, means helping state, county, and city agencies better coordinate the efficient delivery of critically important health and human services to our constituents.
In 2015, the ILAACP will celebrate its 10 year anniversary. We welcome your ideas as we begin planning a year-long series of events to commemorate a decade of building safe, healthy, and resilient African American children, families, and communities.
We also welcome your involvement. So how can you get involved?
- Join the Illinois African American Coalition for Prevention
- Support the vision of the Illinois African American Coalition for Prevention
- Share your thoughts with us on Facebook and Twitter
Help us make the dream a reality.
Malik S. Nevels, J.D.