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MLK Would Have Stood Up For Clean Air

By Gina Carroll
Mom’s Clean Air Force

(Photo/quote via Imagekind)

Environmental issues such as air pollution and climate change are like thieves in the night for communities of color. They are insidious offenders that relentlessly and devastatingly steal the health and vitality of everyone to a considerable degree; of children most profoundly, and of African-American and Latino children in extremes. Outgoing EPA Administrator, Lisa P. Jackson concurs:

“Environmentalism goes hand in hand with traditional civil-rights and social-justice issues in our community. Dr. Dorothy Height, who marched with Congressman John Lewis and Dr. Martin Luther King, said to me before she passed that if Dr. King were alive today, she believed he would be marching for clean air, clean water, and clean communities for every person. Environmental challenges have the power to deny equality of opportunity and hold back progress. Healthy air and clean water and a clean, safe place to live are civil rights.”

Dr. King’s work for equality informs us that environmental issues cannot effectively be looked at in a vacuum. When Jesse Jackson reflected on Dr. King for the Nations Journal series, he surmised that Dr. King, if alive today, would have fought for economic equality. Jackson points out that Dr. King:

“…used the Constitution and the law to fight for big ideas. He marched for legislation that changed America—public accommodation, voting rights, open housing—and died fighting in a multiracial coalition for legislation to end poverty.”

Jackson makes the important point that all of these big picture, large impact issues are interrelated and interdependent. Similarly, economic prosperity affects open housing which in turn affects disparate environmental impacts.

Marian Wright-Edelman wrote about the need to go beyond celebrating Dr. King, to emulating him.

Too many of us would rather celebrate than follow Dr. King. Some of us have enshrined Dr. King the dreamer, but have ignored Dr. King the disturber of all unjust peace. Many celebrate King the orator, but ignore his words and warnings about the need for reordering the misguided values and priorities he believed to be the seeds of America’s downfall.

Wright-Edelman believes if Dr. King were alive today, he would be delighted by the thousands of black and brown elected officials “across the land and in the corridors of power in many sectors.” But she thought he would be appalled and outraged by the persistence of racial and economic disparities. Wright-Edelman says Dr. King:

“…would be challenging us to root out the still glaring and subtle racial disparities in all our child-serving systems and major institutions in America, which reflect the continued vibrancy of racism in our society…A lot of people are waiting for Dr. King to reappear and save us, but he’s not coming back—we’re it.”

If there is going to be change — if we want social justice and equality — if we want clean air, we have to move. We must act. It’s not enough to have an eloquent EPA Administrator or a second-term caring president. It’s going to take the urgency of mothers and fathers, grandparents and loved ones, neighbors and friends, who are willing to push and keeping pushing.

“If you cannot fly, drive; if you cannot drive, run; if you cannot run, walk; if you cannot walk, crawl. But keep moving. Keep moving forward.’ And fight with all our might those who seek to move us backwards.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King

How do you keep these words in mind and fight to fulfill Dr. King’s vision for a new world and a healthy community for all our children?


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