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From Poverty to Empowerment: MLK Jr. Celebration

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
January 24, 2007

Martin Luther King, Jr. called poverty the “inseparable twin of racial injustice.”

In our nation’s capital, where King delivered his remarkable “I Have A Dream” speech, 32 percent of the children live in poverty. Here in New Hampshire, despite one of the lowest child poverty rates in the county, the figure hovers around 10 percent.

Those 2005 U.S. Census Bureau statistics underscore issues being explored next week during the celebration of King’s 78th birthday. This year’s theme “From Poverty to Empowerment: A Call To Action” will be discussed during the annual commemorative address on Jan. 31 and during an educational panel the next day.

Carlos Munoz, ethics expert and professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, will deliver the keynote speech as well as participate on the panel. Other panelists include professor Cynthia Mildred Duncan, director of the Carsey Institute; Sharon Cowen, extension educator, Family and Consumer Resources, Cooperative Extension and Jazmin Miranda-Smith, executive director, New Hampshire Minority Health Coalition.

“Poverty is hard wherever you experience it. But if you are in a place or a group that experiences long-term poverty and lack of public and private investment, it is even harder and more hopeless,” Duncan says.

She describes New Hampshire as having fewer inner city poverty areas or large pockets of rural disadvantage than places where poverty has been a way of life for generations—places like Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta and the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. And still, according to a 2006 Carsey Institute brief, one in seven New Hampshire families are low-income.

The prospect of change is much dimmer in areas where poverty is more insidious, says Duncan. In the Granite State, poor people struggle but there is hope.

“Being poor is still hard but the chances of being exposed to opportunity, good teachers, adults who work and can be role models and even explicitly help in Big Brother-Big Sister or other mentoring programs—these chances are greater in a place like New Hampshire,” Duncan says.

Munoz speaks of the universality of poverty and the economic system of “profits for the rich” at the “expense of human needs.” Money that should go to programs for the poor continues to go elsewhere, he says.

“For the most part I am of the opinion that the issues of poverty are much the same,” Munoz says. “In addition, the poor have gotten poorer and the rich richer. In other words, the gap between rich and poor has increased everywhere.”

His commemorative address, entitled “Dr. King and His Legacy: Celebration, Remembrance, and Action: Prioritizing the Issues of Poverty and Inequality in the Context of the Struggle for a Multiracial Democracy” speaks to the way Munoz believes change can occur—by prioritizing poverty.

And if by “prioritizing’ Munoz means investing in people and programs, then Duncan agrees.

“As the blue collar jobs increasingly disappear in this state and region, we need to take extra measures to invest in human capital—education and work skills—so those who might drop out or not go to college have opportunity,” Duncan says. “If we don’t, we know from the experience of chronically poor places that we can end up with a two class society—those with opportunity for a middle class life, and those stuck at the bottom, scraping by.”

Munoz will give the commemorative address Wednesday, Jan 31, at 7:00 p.m. in the Johnson Theatre. The educational panel takes place Thursday, Feb. 1 from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. in the Strafford Room at the MUB.

For more information visit http://www.unh.edu/diversity/mlk_celebration.html

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