Honoring Dr. King through the fight for fair housing
By: Caitlyn Baylor, RAHFH Business Manager
I grew up in Rockford, where, for five years, I attended Martin Luther King Junior Elementary School on Rockford’s southwest side. Every morning, first through fifth grade, right hands on our hearts, we began our day with the “peacemaker pledge.” The last line of our daily recitation: We follow Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s lead, as one school family, dedicated to helping one another grown in peace.
At King School, the life and work of Dr. King was an enormous part of our curriculum. We sang songs about Dr. King in our school choir, The Jammin’ Peacemakers, led by Dorothy Paige Turner. We watched documentaries about Dr. King at school-wide assemblies. On January 15 each year, we gathered as a school family to dance in the gym in celebration of Dr. King’s life to Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday.” We learned about the Civil Rights Movement, Jim Crow Laws, Selma, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the March on Washington…
But something I did not know until my life led me into this line of work was the impact Dr. King had on the fight for fair housing.
April of 2018 will mark the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King. It will also mark the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act. That is not a coincidence. Dr. King was fighting fiercely to eliminate discriminatory practices in housing shortly before his assassination, and it was his tragic death that pushed Congress to finally pass the fair housing legislation that he and other civil rights leaders had been fighting for.
That legislation has been on paper since 1968, yes, but as a community, we still have a long way to go to realize Dr. King’s vision of housing justice. Many cities like Rockford that were segregated from years of discriminatory legislation remain largely segregated today. Affordable housing remains out of reach for many, and the affordability crisis continues to have a disparate impact on communities of color.
In his 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam,” Dr. King spoke of the need not only to play the Good Samaritan when someone is beaten down along life’s roadside, but also to transform that roadside so that it is no longer a place where people are beaten down. The work that Habitat for Humanity International does aims not only to intervene and provide critical housing to those who need it, but also to restructure the very edifice which makes housing unsafe, unaffordable, and inaccessible to millions in the first place.
Today, on what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s 89th birthday, I hope you will join me in joyful dance to Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday.” I hope you may celebrate Dr. King’s legacy by attending a sermon or completing community service.
And I hope you will also join organizations like Habitat in honoring Dr. King’s legacy by continuing his fight for housing that is fair, safe, decent and affordable for each and every member of our beloved community.
Today and every day, let us follow Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s lead, as one family, dedicated to helping one another grow in peace.
Happy Birthday, Dr. King.