Reflecting on Martin Luther King, Jr. and Making Change


I remember as a child asking my grandmother, ”Why would someone want to kill somebody that just wanted to help people?”  The question was in response to hearing about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The question represented my eleven year old self coming into the realization that the world would not always be a safe place.  I do not remember whether Nana provided an answer, but I do remember the inner turmoil I felt about the situation.  It is one of many moments across my life where I would experience the cognitive dissonance fueled by what I saw, what I heard, what I was being told, how I was being made to feel, and what I knew instinctively.   Whether Nana answered me or not, the question in other forms would be answered in the coming years by society through some of my experiences as an African American female living in the United States of America. I would come to understand that life always has challenges where stigma, prejudice, and discrimination exist.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr is one of my most admired human beings. I admire him, not because he was a fellow social scientist (sociologist), theologian, or profound orator, but due to the manifestation of his love for humanity, and specifically for people who looked like me.  I admire his tenacity to believe that U.S. society could work for everyone, when the laws of the land said it would not.  I admire him for setting a path for church folk to broaden the meaning of ministry that entailed going beyond assembling on Sunday for worship to organizing throughout the week; ensuring that the God given skills and gifts of an oppressed group of people would be utilized to bring forth social change. Dr. King’s belief that everyone should have the same civil rights, earn a living wage, have housing, enough to eat, and not face discrimination, laid the foundation for the social justice advocacy many of us continue today.

As I ponder the issue of homelessness and its emerging issues, the advocacy work people across the country do to lift the increasing need for housing, to dismantle the stereotypes about who is homeless, and to protect the dignity and rights of people experiencing homelessness, I’m convinced that the spirit of Dr. King’s message lives on.  During those times when we may feel discouraged, disappointed, or disillusioned, may we be reminded of the message Dr. King’s social justice work provides for us in knowing that we are empowered.

Today, people experiencing homelessness should not face discrimination based on housing status. We have the tools to protect the right to housing for everyone, to understand the connection between racism and homelessness, and to encourage people without an address to participate in the voting process.  Let us continue to make change by supporting the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness, promoting policies and laws that prevent and end homelessness, providing legislation that protects the rights of people experiencing homelessness, and recognizing the role racial equity has in ending homelessness.  

Visit the following websites to learn more:

SPARC (Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities) Report – Racism And Homelessness-

Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign – National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty

You Don’t Need A Home To Vote: Homeless and Low-Income Voter Rights Manual - National Coalition for the Homeless


DeBorah Gilbert White