Commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington DC

A half century ago last night, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., not feeling well, reluctantly went to the Memphis Mason Temple where many had gathered anticipating inspiration. Once there, he delivered the emotionally charged “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, his last.

On this day, fifty years ago, one intentionally aimed bullet ended his life at the young age of 39. Less than a week after Dr. King’s untimely death, President Johnson took action to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Also known as the Fair Housing Act, this legislation cemented our national intention to end discrimination in housing.

I have a library of Dr. King’s writings, dog-eared after decades of repeat readings. The past few weeks, I have been reading a new one for me: “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” I wanted to dive deep into his thinking during the period after the early successes of the movement, when he grappled with the harsh realization of the deep entrenchment of racism and poverty. Although five decades have passed, it’s hard to reckon with the reality that—while we may have hope and an inkling that we have made progress—we have so much further to go.

In January, I made my way to the King Memorial in Washington, DC. It was dusk on a very cold day, shortly after a recent snowfall. Because I was utterly alone and the snow blanketed the area in silence, it was a profoundly moving experience. I wrestled with how the power of the movement, its leader, and its legacy contrasted with today’s disturbing world, and wondered if it’s possible for us to regain that kind of power and to advance that legacy.

My life journey has taken me to work in places where the movement saw its intense stirring: Montgomery, Albany, Selma, Jackson, Atlanta, Chicago, and Memphis.  Each added a dimension of learning and consciousness…and wonderment about how we ever overcome the magnitude of our history and who we are as a society. These experiences also inform my day-to-day thinking about how we as an association can think, act, and transform like a movement.

The vision of the Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County is about making quality and affordable housing accessible to everyone in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. County. In this, our 30th year of existence, we should take stock of our true resolve to tackle structural and institutional racism and to ensure access to housing for everyone in communities of opportunity.  Both stories and statistics tell us we have a mountain of work to do.

Wouldn’t it be great if, in this 30th anniversary year, 30 HDC members conduct the racial equity assessment found in the HDC Racial Equity Toolkit?  If you would like to learn more about how to do this or need special assistance, please let us know. And on May 3, the Recruiting Diversity Task Force will have its third symposium. These offer great resources for working introspectively within our organizations, but they are just the start of the many steps we need to take.

“First, the line of progress is never straight. For a period a movement may follow a straight line and then it encounters obstacles and the path bends. It is like curving around a mountain when you are approaching a city. Often if feels as though you were moving backwards, and you lose sight of your goal: but in fact you are moving ahead, and soon you will see the city again, closer by.”
Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

What do you think? How has Dr. King’s legacy shaped your life and your work? We invite you to share your reflections with us and the HDC membership on social media.

Marty Kooistra
Executive Director
Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County