By Maria Saporta
The widening gap between rich and poor presents the biggest threat to the fulfillment of Martin Luther King Jr.’s ultimate dream of a nation and world of equal opportunity.
And so it was no coincidence that during this past week’s Operation HOPE Global Forum in Atlanta and during the annual King holiday festivities that one theme kept surfacing – one of “inclusive economics.”
Former President Bill Clinton articulated both the challenges and opportunities that exists when a large share of the wealth is held by just a few people.
“There is growing inequality in America and all over the world,” Clinton said on Saturday at the Operation HOPE summit meeting at the Omni Hotel. “When there’s a widening gap in opportunity, the whole system shuts down.”
Clinton explained that in a consumption-based economy, people must have enough money to be able to buy things in order to keep fueling the .
“Inclusive economics” trumps “trickle-down economics,” Clinton said. “We are supposed to empower people.”
A more inclusive economy works because it expands the circle of participation, said Clinton, using the example of Muhammad Yunus, considered the father of micro-credit. Clinton said he kept urging the Nobel Peace Prize committee to give a medal to Yunus, an economist can measure his success by the lives he has saved.
Being a more inclusive economy. It can work. Expanding the circle of participation. Muhammad Yunus, an economist who meassure success by the lives saved.
Clinton then shared a warming: “The more exclusive economics will be inclusive whether you like it or not. It just will be inclusive failure.”
At the Salute to Greatness dinner on Jan. 17 – the top fund-raiser for the King Center, Clinton continued the inclusive theme — this time he talked about both inclusive economics as well as inclusive politics.
On the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Clinton said it is important to honor how inclusive politics help create an inclusive society and they help lead to inclusive economics where “our beloved community and humanity dwarfs our differences.”
It was Julian Castro, the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, who said the challenge in 2015 is to make sure there is a “path to prosperity” for all Americans.
He repeated a saying that former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson used to say about the three “B”s: the ballot, the book and the buck. Jackson understood that minorities needed to be full participants in the economy in order to reach their full potential.
“Breaking the cycle of poverty is tough,” Castro acknowledged. “Wages have barely increased. Many feel like they are running in place.”
Too often, people’s economic destiny is determined by the zip code where they were born and raised.
John Hope Bryant, the founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Operation HOPE, has a grand plan to attack poverty in those very zip codes. Operation HOPE aims to help people improve their credit scores from 500 to 700 as a way of getting them out from under the control of loan sharks and high interest lenders.
With the tagline: “Expanding Free Enterprise for All,” Operation HOPE has started its “Business In A Box” for Middle School and High School students. Four entrepreneurs, who already had won $500 in start-up capital to grow their companies, were invited to make a pitch at the Summit for a $1,000 prize in more funding.
Nicholas of Benjamin E. Mays High School and Isaiah f the New schools at Carver spoke of their successful “Clean Cut Lawn and Gardening” business.
Rayshaun, who attends B.E.S.T. Academy Middle School, has started Frost Productions had an entertainment company willing to offer music mixes and DJ services to a variety of clients and events.
Micrya of Benjamin E. Mays High School has her own jewelry business – Mick’s Jewelry, which she brought to the Summit so she could make some sales.
Muhammad of B.E.S.T. Academy Middle School, has established the “Mobile Mini Mart” – which offers drinks, snacks and school supplies for sale at his school’s campus If he won the first prize, he said he planned to expand his operation.
The judges, which included AOL founder Steve Cases, ended up giving the second- place, third-place and fourth-place winners a grant of $1,000. The overall winner — Muhammad — was given $2,000.
As we try to try to King’s teachings relevant to today’s world, the theme of “inclusive economics” probably would resonate with the civil rights leader along with his themes of nonviolence.
Bryant likes to say that we have gone from civil rights to silver rights.
“Civil rights was about taking our protests to the streets,” Bryant said, adding that there are still division of class and poverty. “Civil rights was about taking our protests to the streets. Silver rights is about taking our protests to the suites.”