By James Park
While people of color have made tremendous progress in the past 50 years, there is still a long way to go before Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of justice and equality is realized. The union movement can play a big role at the front of the effort to create that new America, many participants said during the annual AFL-CIO King Day celebration.
One of the hallmarks of a more just society is that people take care of each other. On Friday, the more than 400 participants in the King Day celebration, which began Jan. 14 in Greensboro, N.C., spent the day in a mass community service project sorting clothes, supplies and other goods for distribution to local homeless shelters, unemployed people and others in need.
Said Jana Weaver, a member of AFSCME Council 24 in Madison, Wis., and a King Day participant:
Sometimes, unions get slammed for just caring about workers. But we are a positive force in the community. We’re always extending a helping hand to the less fortunate. The union and our communities are our family.
Lending a helping hand also means fighting to make sure everyone has the means to live a decent life. In her keynote address to the Greensboro gathering, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker said it is time again to “take up the call to arms” to put people back to work:
Blacks, whites and immigrants have the constitutional right to sit at the same lunch counter today, but far too many of us are struggling to pay for that hamburger.
Holt Baker said today’s generation must leave our children and grandchildren a better life.
That is the legacy of the founding fathers and mothers of America’s civil rights movement. That is our responsibility.
Franklin McCain agrees. He’s one of the four trailblazing students whose sit-in at a Greensboro whites-only lunch counter 50 years ago ignited a nationwide effort that resulted in passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The four were honored today at the King Day event in Greensboro.
McCain says King understood it’s not enough to be able to sit at the lunch counter “if you don’t have any money in your pocket.”