Dr. King’s (Much Overlooked) Message of Financial Empowerment

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Before you begin reading, I’d like to kindly warn you that this will not be the typical “polite” nod to Dr. King and his legacy. On Dr. King’s observed holiday, for the last few years, I have made it a point to stop and thoughtfully consider Dr. King’s message and contribution to the world. Every year, the media advertises his most famous speech “I Have a Dream.” And frankly, I get upset every time I hear sound bites from it. Why? It is NOT because I don’t have eternal respect and gratitude for Dr. King and his words. I do. He did what I don’t know that I could: risked his own life and those of his loved ones every day fighting against murderous, hateful people to obtain freedom for his people. Even finally giving up his very life for that fight. I have absolute love for Dr. King and unwavering admiration for all that he did for me and us. But I feel that his entire contribution and impact has been reduced to a “feel good” sound bite by this society. And I have a huge problem with that.

Dr. King represented far more and communicated on far deeper levels about critical issues beyond civil rights. He had many strong words for this society about what needed to change. But all we tend to hear about is “the dream” he had. There is hardly any discussion of why he NEEDED to have this dream in the first place. Or why to this day, this dream has NOT been fulfilled. It appears that it’s quite fine to repeatedly replay and laud his speech with no (or barely any) mention of the fact that the same inequalities that existed when he said these words, STILL exist today. On purpose.

I’m personally not on board with this sterilized portrayal of Dr. King. He was not solely a warm, forgiving and “let it slide” person. At the end of his life, Americans overwhelmingly turned on him because he voiced opposition to the Vietnam war. And he actually voiced regrets about pursuing integration as the solution to inequality for Blacks. He realized (as so many of us have) that integration was not a real solution. Blacks being integrated into spaces where they were formerly not allowed to live, work and move about didn’t rectify the foundational and systemic inequality that Blacks experienced. Yes, they were integrated. But it was (and still is) on a pre-assigned unequal and lower status basis. As Dr. King stated,

“What will it profit him to be able to send his children to an integrated school if the family income is insufficient to buy them school clothes? What will he gain by being permitted to move into an integrated neighborhood if he cannot afford to do so because he is unemployed or has a low-paying job with no future?” (The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr., pg 46).

One of the other big issues that Dr. King stressed was economic power. As his wife Coretta wrote in the Introduction of The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“In 1968 Martin was deeply involved in organizing a Poor People’s Campaign to demonstrate in a mass way for economic as well as civil rights, which he had always considered dependent upon each other.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was the first example where we saw Martin’s intertwined message of fighting for personal and economic freedom simultaneously. Economic/financial empowerment is absolutely vital to achieving the lives that we seek and dream of. Dr. King further stated,

“Many white Americans of good will have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation. They have deplored prejudice but tolerated or ignored economic injustices. But the Negro knows that these two evils have a malignant kinship.” (The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr., pg 45).

Yes, Black people know all too well how these two issues are connected. My philosophy is one of taking ownership of our financial destinies. That does not mean asking others to give us financial freedom or equality. That means working ourselves to achieve economic freedom and growth, both individually and collectively. Rather than stopping at only one part of his message – one that has been largely isolated to a “dream” of yearning for others to finally treat us equally and fairly – I’d like to urge you to focus on Martin’s message of economic empowerment to motivate you to take control of your finances so that you can create your OWN freedom.

My hope in writing this is to genuinely honor and thank Dr. King for his life, words and example and to encourage fellow people of color to take the time to personally delve beyond the surface message reiterated by the media. Instead, let’s seek out the wealth of wisdom and power that his words and actions offer to inspire us to achieve every type of freedom available to us, through our own efforts. And on our own terms. Peace and love.

Source: Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr. Newmarket Press, 1996.

About Yolanda Ransom

Yolanda Ransom is a financial educator, speaker and workshop trainer who teaches clients to confidently master their money so that they can achieve all of their financial dreams. She is the CEO of Yolanda Ransom Consulting and provides transformational financial literacy training. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and at her website yolandaransom.com