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Dr. Martin Luther King left a blueprint for eradicating poverty

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 2/2/2015, 3:27 a.m.
“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid ...

(NNPA) – “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it.” Not too many years ago, Kirtley Mather, a Harvard geologist, wrote a book titled Enough and to Spare. He set forth the basic theme that famine is wholly unnecessary in the modern world. Today, therefore, the question on the agenda is: Why should there be hunger and privation in any land, in any city, at any table, when man has the resources and the scientific know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life?

In January 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took a very rare “sabbatical” at an isolated house in Jamaica far away from telephones and the constant pressures of his life as a very public civil rights leader to write what would become his last book: Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

Mather’s book arguing that mankind had achieved the ability to move beyond famine was published in 1944, yet in 2015, despite 70 more years of unparalleled advances in scientific and technological capability and global resources and wealth, hunger and want are still rampant – most shamefully in the United States with the world’s largest economy.

Hear again King: “There is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will … The well-off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. The poor in our countries have been shut out of our minds, and driven from the mainstream of our societies, because we have allowed them to become invisible. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.’”

When King died in 1968 calling for a Poor People’s Campaign, there were 25.4 million poor Americans, including 11 million poor children. Today, there are more than 45.3 million poor Americans, including 14.7 million poor children, living in our boastfully rich nation.

The question is why we allow poverty to still exist, especially among our children who are the poorest age group of Americans, and the answer remains the same: the deficit in human will and genuine commitment to a fair playing field for all by a critical mass of leaders and citizens in our morally anemic nation.

How can it be that the top 1 percent of Americans enjoy more of the nation’s wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined and that millions of children are hungry and homeless and poorly educated? If the qualification for individual and national greatness is genuine concern for the “least of these” as those of us who are Christians say we believe, and if nations and our concurrent role as members of nations and not just as individuals are accountable, then too many of our political, corporate, and faith leaders and citizens – all of us who live in America – are failing.