What would a 90-year-old Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. think of the United States today? Since he was taken from us far too soon in 1968, how have we progressed with racial equity, economic justice and peace? The gaps between white and black outcomes in our major institutions such as education, criminal justice, healthcare, and housing, which are the foundations in our democracy, are as wide as ever. What has happened to our commitment to offer everyone the opportunity to have the American dream?

The warning from Dr. King that our country was poised at a critical crossroads that would decide the destiny of democracy is still being shouted from the mountain tops from many marginalized Americans. And sadly, it is not necessary to get overwhelmed by the immensity of this national problem, because we can look in Orange County and see the similar systemic and institutional racism as it exists right here.

Perhaps a better question than “what would Dr. King think of us today?” is “what are we, as individuals, are doing to honor and continue his legacy?” For all of our wonderful activities, programs, and resources, our county is sick. We suffer from a condition that often keeps us paralyzed with incomplete thinking, endless meetings, and a lack of vision for the less fortunate. We have inherited this disorder through the acceptance of inaccurate history and warped narratives. We have overlooked or rubberstamped policies handed to us from previous administrations, which have our hearts and minds hardened to the alarming facts about our underserved community. Lastly, we have often ignored the cries of our children.

HRC Members:
Matt Case, Vice Chair
Ana Garcia-Turner
Stephanie Harrell
Rebecca High
Allison Mahaley
Jackie Podger, Secretary
Joy Preslar
Nora Spencer
Deborah Stroman, Chair
Nancy White
Marc Xavier

Orange County must respond to the needs of all of our people. Are we not better than these glaring disparities between members of our community? 92% of our adult residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, so is our education blocking our ability to do the right thing? Our residents consistently have one of the lowest unemployment rates in our state and our median household income is well above the state average. Yet, there is a sharp divide between rich and poor along racial lines. Is our local economy then purposely designed to only serve and benefit a certain population?

For example, ongoing inequality is found in the UNC inclusion project. “Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) and Orange County Schools (OCS) have both also faced persistent, district-wide achievement gaps between white students and African American and Latino students. While OCS tracks the statewide achievement gap between white and African American students each year, CHCCS’s achievement gap is much wider. CHCCS’s wide testing disparities recently drew national attention, as researchers from Stanford University found that the achievement gap between the district’s white and African American students is the second-highest of any school district in the country.” How can this happen in an area with so many highly educated and racial justice-minded professionals? Do we really care about all people? The facts say otherwise. We must demand and work for better outcomes for our children and our community.

The issues of racism, including educational achievement gaps, housing inequality, poverty, police brutality, voter suppression, unemployment and mass incarceration that were present during Dr. King’s time still remain in our country. Clearly, there is something at work to maintain these inequities, and we must boldly examine its purpose and tactics without fear. There has been an evolution of the human and civil rights struggle as activists continue to battle for true citizenship, equity, justice, voting rights and freedom. Dr. King’s message should last all year round and not just for one weekend. There is always room for dedicated allies to lead and serve in this important mission. Join us.

GET INVOLVED. There are many organizations and events in Orange County dedicated to the spirit of Dr. King’s work for equity and peace. The Human Relations Commission of Orange County, works diligently to host events, promote racial harmony, and support community organizations working for racial equity and social justice.

Nancy White

Human Relations Commissioner