The Poor People’s Campaign: A Dream for Dignity in 2018
By Dr. Anita Ward, President, Operation HOPE, Inc.
Until today, it had been a long time since I read the “I have a dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The words resonate more as the decades have passed, and collective dream of equality has grown stronger. New voices of women, children, immigrants, and patriots join the cacophony of universal dreams that began with the words of Dr. King. “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King paved the way for Civil Rights and opened the doors of freedom to the oppressed. In recognition of his courage, love and inclusion, people all over the world will unite today in service, justice, love, peace, and purpose to honor the life, legacy, and dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
For the past few months I have been living in Atlanta in the cradle of the civil rights movement, and I have many times walked the streets of historic Sweet Auburn, stopping often at 501 to chat with Park Ranger Marty, to gain a little more insight into the early life of this remarkable hero. The buildings, the people, the humble doors of Ebenezer Church, honor the memory of Dr. King and remind me to be grateful.
The relevance of “I have a dream” echoes resoundingly in 2018 when civil rights have given way to human rights, and equality among all races has assumed an economic shape. Fifty years ago Dr. King took up the struggle for economic dignity through the establishment of the Poor People’s Campaign to fight against dehumanization and poverty in the richest country in the world. “… if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists … We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic non-violent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.”
By focusing on economic and financial dignity, Dr. King brought every race, creed, gender, and ethnicity to the table of change. The unjust economic conditions facing millions of people were not specific to race, and Dr. King understood the potential of the poor to transform the whole of society. The Poor People’s Campaign was designed to organize and mobilize the poor as a sociopolitical force capable of dispelling the myths of poverty. He described this as a multi-racial “nonviolent army of the poor, a freedom church of the poor”.
Dr. King recognized that poor people were not a special interest group. A few weeks later he was assassinated.
Civil rights have given way to silver rights, and Operation HOPE has taken up the mission of the Poor People’s Campaign to restore financial dignity as a basic human right. The invisible class has been excluded from participating in the economic system because they don’t have the context; they don’t speak the language of money and don’t possess the trust in the system necessary to gain access to the resources and capital necessary to change the trajectory of their lives. The system has excluded them.
Since 1992, Operation HOPE has been moving America from civil rights to “silver rights” with the mission of making free enterprise and capitalism work for the underserved – disrupting poverty for millions of low and moderate income families across the nation. Through its community uplift model, HOPE Inside, which received the 2016 Innovator of the Year recognition by American Banker magazine, Operation HOPE has served more than 2.8 million individuals and directed more than $2.7 billion in economic activity into disenfranchised communities – turning check cashing customers into banking customers, renters into homeowners, small business dreamers into small business owners, minimum wage workers into living wage consumers, and uncertain disaster victims into financially empowered disaster survivors. As Operation HOPE implements financial literacy, homeownership and small business entrepreneurship programs in underserved neighborhoods, it helps to uplift communities and restore dignity.
There is a quiet revolution today that will grow louder and stronger as the Silver Rights Movement expands. As global citizens and caring individuals, we all stand on the shoulders of Dr. King and fellow revolutionaries. Don’t let this day pass without making a commitment in his memory to inclusion, equality, and a dream for dignity for all in 2018.