This morning, on Martin Luther King Day, I had an incredible experience while doing service work with Safe Harbor, a homeless shelter in South San Francisco designed to help people who are living in abject poverty and who are dealing with substance abuse. I met a direct descendent of Martin Luther King Jr!
While getting to know some of the residents who live at Safe Harbor, I got a chance to meet a woman named Barbara (pictured above). Barbara told me that she had been living at Safe Harbor for about 6 months. She had recently moved up from Los Angeles. She told me that one of the things she was struggling with was the extreme expense of living in the Bay Area. She said that she was paying $900 a month for a one room apartment in LA, but that it would cost at least $1,300 a month in the Bay Area. She told me that she couldn't afford that. She then said that her mother, named Geraldine King died about 7 years ago. She was missing her. Attempting to make a connection with MLK day and Barbara's story, I said, "King? Your name is King, like Martin Luther King?" She said, "Yes, in fact, I am related to him." "Wait, what?!?!" I said. Barbara's mother's sister is a daughter of the King family, (I think I have that right) and is directly related to the King family. She then said, "I met Corretta Scott King, but I don't think I ever met Martin Luther King Jr., even though I was in Memphis at the time he was shot."
Now, of course, when anyone tells you about their personal connection to someone famous, one always wonders if their story is 100% true. However, my gut tells me that Barbara's story is true. First, Barbara did not lead off with this connection to King, but the fact made its way through our 10 minute conversation. Second, Barbara seems incapable of fibbing about anything, she is very honest. Trust me on that one. Third, it just seems true.
So, considering the strong possibility that Barbara's story is true, that she is a direct descendant of MLK, then it raises for me a whole slew of related questions? How did Barbara get to this place in her life? What was her exact journey? Why is she in a homeless shelter? Why is she struggling with addiction? And perhaps most importantly, on this the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination (April 4, 1968), what is Dr. King's legacy for so many African Americans like Barbara in the United States today?
Sadly, the statistics are not good. Even though great strides have been made in our country since the day of the Civil Rights Movement, there is still much work to be done in our country for all people of color. According to the website americanprogress.org;
* While people of color make up 30% of the United States population, they account for 60% of those imprisoned today.
* According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime.
* Department of Education statistics show that African American students are arrested far more than their white classmates.
* The war on drugs has been waged primarily in communities of color.
* Once convicted, black offenders receive longer sentences compared to white offenders.
There is clearly still a long way that we need to go in our country if we are to continue to advance the causes which Dr. King began. And this can only be done with love. It was MLK, himself, who said; "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
Before leaving the shelter today, Barbara King took me on a tour of the facilities at Safe Harbor. She escorted me to the room where there are weekly AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) classes. Pointing to a quote on the wall, Barbara said, "Don't Wish For It, Work For It." She said, "That quote changed my life. You can't just wish for things, you have to work for things." Peering into her weathered eyes, I could almost see the eyes of Dr. King himself. And perhaps it is a good reminder to all of us, that - sadly the work that we all must do is still not done, the fight must go on, the dream must never die...
All For Now,