On Jan.20, the UW Tacoma Black Student Union hosted the Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast. This event aimed to recognize and honor King’s legacy battling the nation’s inequality. The theme for this year’s annual breakfast was “Economic Empowerment: On Our Terms,” which sought to bring to light ways on combating economic disparities. Denise Fairchild, inaugural president of Emerald Cities Collaborative, was the keynote speaker.
“Our economic, environmental and social justice challenges stem from the same problem: an extractive market economy,” Fairchild said during her speech.
Fairchild claims the economy’s focus on trade and exploitation is a multi-generational issue that spanned over several revolutions. She believes asking for bigger roles and wages in the current economy will not minimize any of the aforementioned challenges. The next economic system must be built carefully.
“Every 100 to 50 years our economy changes,” Fairchild said, “We’ve moved from the agricultural to the industrial economy. We’ve moved from industrial to suburban economy… We are now transitioning to the green economy, right? But in every one of those transitions low-income kids have been kicked to the curb, on the sidelines picking up the crumbs. We cannot afford this next, and probably last, transition to the green economy to allow that to happen.”
Fairchild expressed that universities have a critical role to create a pipeline of sustainable jobs. They must provide education on the intersections of community and economic development to ready their students for high demand and high growth jobs.
The UWT BSU remains hopeful that this event will inspire the campus community to continue King’s dream to create an equal and equitable nation of opportunities. The MLK Jr. Unity Breakfast had a positive turnout and response selling over 300 seats.
“[The event is] about bringing us all together, giving us a place where we can discuss these things, giving us a place to learn,” said Amari Hill, president of BSU. “Its purpose is to bring people of different entities to celebrate MLK’s work. ”
King, who was assassinated in Memphis while advocating for sanitation workers rights, argued that the government spent more money on warfare than on anti-poverty programs. While in Memphis, King gave a speech known as “All Labor Has Dignity”.
In his Memphis speech, King stated, “It is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages. Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working every day? And they are making wages so low they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. These are facts which must be seen, and it is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis and a full-time job getting part-time income.”
The 2018 US Census states that 38.1 million people — 11.8% of the American population — is on or below the poverty line. For each race the poverty rate differs; for African Americans is 20.8%, Asians at 10.1%, Hispanics at 17.6% and Caucasians at 8%. This is similar to the 1969 census with 23.4 million people, where 12.2% of the population was at or below the poverty line. During this time, people of color in poverty was at 31%, while Caucasians in poverty were at 8.1%.
Ushalla Dunn, marketing director of BSU, agreed with Hill that knowledge of history is important in assessing current injustices. Dunn’s stated events like theirs help create solidarity to power resilience against inequality.
“We are not going to forget how realistic these problems are… [This day] stops us from growing complacent,” said Dunn. “People would like to think that we’ve made a lot of progress, but when you really get down to the numbers we haven’t… The fight is never over. There is always room to grow.”