50th Anniversary of MLK’s March on Washington

A special message from REDF’s President Carla Javits on this week’s 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.

As an 8 year old, I was in Washington, D.C. in 1963 on the day of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which my parents attended. I remember the energy and sense of history in the room at the gathering they hosted at our apartment afterwards.

This week’s events made me think about the sea-change we see reflected in the extraordinary success of so many members of the African-American community; but it was also a reminder that black unemployment remains nearly twice that of unemployment for whites, and Latino unemployment is also disproportionately high. President Obama noted as much in his speech yesterday, “They were there seeking jobs as well as justice,” he said, “not just the absence of oppression but the presence of economic opportunity.”

Our country believes in the power of work. Having a job is an essential part of achieving the dream of Dr. King – and the American Dream. The fact that so many people are not working, coupled with the ingenuity and ethic at the core of our national identity, should challenge us to do better. Long-term exclusion from the workforce harms those who are unemployed, but it also harms our country socially and economically because instead of contributing their energy and talent to value creation, too many people who can’t get work get caught up in the welfare, justice, and health care systems that do little to rehabilitate, restore, or resolve – and throw more obstacles to employment in the way.

In his famous Letter from a Birmingham jail, Dr. King said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

The most fundamental prerequisite to a decent life is decent work and decent pay. At REDF the message we take from the celebration is to fulfill the dream by doubling down on the effort we all make to create economic and job opportunities for every American.