Last night I had the honor of presenting some talking points at a wonderful philanthropic community event for Impact100 Metro Denver. Part of the words I used were from a speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., gave in 1967, at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Dr. King had begun his push for economic inclusion, and for corporations and businesses, as well as those in the philanthropic community, to drive social impact change in order to build better communities and a better world.
As Dr. King once said, “…There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system..."
A system that keeps communities marginalized and disenfranchise. A system that creates food deserts, a lack of affordable housing, and other barriers to the American dream.
The words I borrowed from Dr. King touched my heart as I thought about our communities and our world. His words spoke directly to the communities that continue to be marginalized and disenfranchised in our current economic climate of prosperity.
"Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds. Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort and the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. Let us be dissatisfied until those that live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security. Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family is living in a decent sanitary home. Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality, integrated education. Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity. Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character and not on the basis of the color of their skin. Let us be dissatisfied."
It struck me, rather hard, later that evening, that we were still trying to solve the world's problems of 'isms', poverty, inequity, much like Dr. King had talked about in 1967.
I wondered, actually out loud to no one in particular, why we haven't gotten this right. Why in our country (actually in our world), do children still go to bed hungry at night, schools are not safe havens for kids, older adults still must decide whether to pay the electric bill, rent or mortgage, over the life sustaining medications they may need. Why in this country we are still talking about how black women show up (angry) and how they wear their hair at work. Why in this country we are still demanding that everyone should love the same way or that we are dealing with the worse homeless crisis (in a civilized society), of any country in the world?
Since 1967, by the way if you do the math that's fifty-six years, we have been talking about, struggling with, and fighting the same social problems (albeit on a larger scale), dealing with the same acts of racism, gendering, sexism, and poverty.
Is change an illusion? I don't think so because I have come to know some extraordinary men and women who are helping to make change possible. Former President Barack Obama uttered a now famous line during his bid for the White House on Feb 5th, 2008, that helps us to understand that change is an illusion, only if we allow it to be.
During that speech he said, "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."
Dr. King said something very familiar along his journey. But why in the world after fifty-seven years, are we still struggling, if we are the ones we are waiting for?
Because we get amnesia, and we believe change is an illusion. We go back to the safety of our bubbles in our own homes and communities, and we often think that someone else will or can solve the problems that ail us.
But our problems are not illusions or someone else's problems. They are yours, mines, philanthropy, business, education, government and so much more. They are our problems.
I read somewhere that the world we see, is the world we have created. That's really a powerful statement. Yet, we choose to believe it's the world someone else has created.
No, it's the world we have created.
For example, the housing crisis and homelessness, we can assume is the problem of politicians, homeless advocates, social workers and even those standing on the side of the road holding up signs for money. Everyone else but, us.
Yet, our world becomes smaller when we decide that we can't go into downtown areas or other places because we don't want to see or be near homeless individuals until that elusive someone else fixes the problem.
The problem with that problem is we don't hurt the homeless person as much as we hurt ourselves. We become the victims of our own illusions about what we think those who are unhoused or homeless are, will do or other illusions we dream up in our heads.
What if we decided that we can, as Dr. King said, become dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds, and roll up our sleeves, give back, and break through this illusion of change.
We are the ones we have been waiting for. It's time to change the illusion.