In September of 1967 at the National Convention on New Politics held in Chicago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared: “We are concerned for the moral health of our nation. We have come because our eyes have seen through the superficial glory and glitter of our society, and observed the coming of judgement, like the prophet of old. We have read the handwriting on the wall. We have seen our nation weighed in the balance of history...and found wanting.”
Dr. King continues, discussing what he deems as the three major evils of society: the evil of racism, the evil of poverty and the evil of war.
Here we sit almost 53 years later knowing that not only do these same evils exist, but they continue to plague our great nation. From politics to education to entertainment, we know that racism exists in our country. We know that it did not die with slavery or Jim Crow or the Civil Rights Movement. When the FBI publishes their annual report on violent hate crimes, the reality is that these crimes and threats against minorities, especially Latino people and Arab Americans, have reached their highest level in 16 years. We must do more than just know that racism exists. We must acknowledge it, confront it, and ultimately destroy it.
The same is true of poverty. According to the US Census Bureau, 38.1 million people in the US lived in poverty in 2018. That is almost 12% of our population. While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was staring at a 19% poverty rate when he delivered his speech in 1967, and we have come a long way in tackling poverty thanks to Lyndon B Johnson’s “unconditional war on poverty” and the policies that it enacted for the time, we still have far to go.
According to the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, we know that poor families’ incomes are just not enough to cover even the most basic of living expenses. In the land of the free and home of the brave, we must commit to doing better. It is hard to act as global citizens knowing that our own citizens so badly need further care and assistance to thrive.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was specifically speaking out against the Vietnam War, which at the time of his speech had been raging for 12 years. I, too, hope for an end to the conflict. Born in December of 2001 at the genesis of the War on Terror, I have never seen a world free of conflicts. While I do not have the answer to resolving our global conflicts, I do believe, like Dr. King, that brutality is not the answer.
Finally, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. petitioned in 1967, it is up to all of us to cooperate to achieve a better future. With that in mind, may we ever toil to tip that scale toward justice, prosperity and peace.
Abby Scherwitz, a senior at Milton High School, wrote this speech for an MLK Commemoration event. She is the captain of the MHS forensics team. Due to weather, the MLK commemoration was rescheduled for 3-5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25 on the Central Campus of Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville. Unfortunately, Scherwitz is unable to attend.