Board President Statement
The Other America
Many years ago, my father gave me a recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speeches. I often find myself turning to these speeches in search of perspective and a better understanding of what we need to do as a community to overcome injustice. I don’t wait for Black History Month or a tragedy to revisit them.
The senseless and unjust murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor have sparked a search for perspective in many Americans and many have turned to the words of our civil rights leaders. I have seen the following phrase, spoken by Dr. King, quoted in the context of recent events: “…a riot is the language of the unheard.”
It is inspiring to see so many people revisit and reconsider the words of many of our civil rights leaders. But my reason in citing Dr. King’s words is not to debate the legitimacy of various forms of political expression. That is a discussion for a different forum.
Instead, I hope to shed light on the full context of Dr. King’s words. He spoke the quoted phrase in a speech he gave at Grosse Pointe High School in Michigan on March 14, 1968. He titled this speech “The Other America.”
Dr. King touched on many topics in this speech, but his message centered on the socio-economic disadvantages experienced by Black Americans. He stated this central message clearly: “…the most critical problem in the other America is the economic problem.”
Dr. King spoke about the “thousands and thousands of people” who “walk the streets in search for jobs that do not exist.” He also touched on the lack of quality education in predominantly Black areas: “…thousands of young people are deprived of an opportunity to get an adequate education… Not because they're dumb, not because they don't have the native intelligence, but because the schools are so inadequate…that the best in these minds can never come out.”
Dr. King spoke about the Other America 52 years ago. His words remain all too relevant today.
Dr. King’s Words and UMMA’s Mission
If you are familiar with UMMA, you know that our mission is focused squarely on addressing the economic problem.
We’re not the first or the only organization that addresses the economic problem and we didn’t intentionally set out to address it in response to Dr. King’s call to action. But we find ourselves aligned, in the most natural manner, with his message on the socio-economic issues.
You can see this in the programs that we offer on the ground:
UMMA addresses the issue of lack of access to education by offering disadvantaged individuals’ opportunities to further their education with dignity, through our GED & adult literacy programs.
UMMA addresses the problem of unemployment and underemployment by providing job readiness and placement services through our CareerLink program.
UMMA addresses the challenges posed by food insecurity and unequal access to technology through our food pantry and computer literacy programs.
Dr. King made it clear that confronting racial inequality in American means addressing the economic problem. I hope that you will choose to work with UMMA in the historic moment as we seek to address the economic problem and make our contribution to confronting inequality in our country.
Even if you choose to work through a different avenue, I hope that you will capitalize on this moment in history and help to address the socio-economic problems that are, in my opinion, at the core of the racial issue in this country.
How You Can Help
If you choose to work with UMMA, there are many things you can do to help:
Volunteer to teach a GED, financial literacy, or computer class regularly or help us enhance our curriculum.
Help us build partnerships with HR and corporate responsibility departments of corporations operating in Lake County, Illinois to help expand our CareerLink services.
When social distancing rules are further relaxed, help us in the food pantry or help us organize community events to increase awareness around the issues we are trying to address.
Get involved with our Board of Directors in a formal or informal capacity to provide feedback and help set our course for the future.
In addition to these ways to lend your skills and expertise to UMMA, you can also make monetary contributions to support our efforts.
UMMA Stands for Community
I will leave you with two other ideas from Dr. King’s speech on the Other America.
In March of 1968, Dr. King implored us to “…face the fact that our nation's summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay” and recognize that we have “…not used its winters creatively enough to develop the program, to develop the kind of massive acts of concern that will bring about a solution to the problem.”
Today, we may find ourselves in turbulent times, but I believe that after 52 years of ceaseless struggle since Dr. King’s famous speech, this time is different. The intense spotlight focused on our communities gives us a chance, unlike any before, to highlight systemic inequality and address its root causes.
Let’s not lapse into another winter of delay, let’s use the momentum to make progress on both the racial problem and the economic problem.
Dr. King also highlighted the plight of those who “…find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”
Those of us who live in Lake County, Illinois, or are familiar with its demographics, will appreciate that for many, Lake County is a vast ocean of prosperity. But we also know that many, many residents of Lake County live on islands of poverty and lack access to basic education, employment, and nutrition.
We can also see that “islands of poverty” and the “oceans of prosperity” are often divided across racial lines, with our Black and Latino neighbors becoming trapped in a cycle of extreme disadvantage.
Let’s no longer accept this divide as a natural occurrence.
There are many in our country who, for the first time are waking up to the reality of racial and economic inequality. Many people who have bowed out of the struggle for equality in the past are now lending their voices to support the cause. Let’s use our platform to provide them an opportunity to take the next step and contribute not just their voices, but also their effort, intelligence, and privilege to bring about change.
After all, we are the most prosperous society in the history of civilization. There should be enough space in our oceans of prosperity for all of us.
President of the Board
Written by Hamaas Ibrahim and the UMMA Board