By Kate Adler (Director of Library Services) & Natalia Sucre (Instruction & Digital Services Librarian)

The Background

Every year, in January and February the Library celebrates Black History and the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year our programming is part of a larger set of events – including performances of Greenwood: American Dream Destroyed  (free to all MCNY students!). In conjunction with the performances, this year the library is focusing on questions of race and economic justice.  

Martin Luther King and the Poor People’s Campaign

The reading this time related to Dr. King’s final political campaign. On December 4, 1967, just 4 months before his assassination, King  announced a new political focus: the Poor People’s Campaign, a direct-action movement calling for a multi-racial coalition to demand government action on systemic poverty and racism. Beginning in 2013, Rev. William Barber and Liz Theoharis have taken up King’s call anew, building a new Poor People’s Campaign. They bring urgent visibility to problems experienced by many, addressed directly by few politicians, and ripe for civic engagement.

The Conversations

The conversation at the Bronx unfolded as a probing group inquiry led masterfully by Dr. Charles Gray into the question: What is the legacy of Dr. King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign? As each and every participant reflected on Dr. King’s demands of our government, a tension emerged. Some responded with skepticism to what they saw as dependence on government action (so often inaction); they emphasized instead individual responsibility, personal agency, and current opportunities. Others embraced King’s systemic critique, pointing to structures that still disenfranchise many groups and arguing for the power of collective, organized action—including Rev. Barber’s movement. All listened attentively to each other and came away with expanded views.

In Manhattan, the conversation was facilitated by MCNY’s charismatic VP of Academic Affairs, Humphrey Crookendale. VP Crookendale spoke about his brother–a wealthy doctor in Barbados–and about how wealth disparity looks and feels so different in the United States, particularly in New York City where inequality is so extreme. VP Crookendale reminded us of King’s famous I Have Been to the Mountain speech. In its full incarnation, the speech calls for economic justice, and stands as an inspirational invocation of nonviolence and human dignity.  For more inspiration, visit our library book displays at both campuses and stay tuned for February events!