MLK event focuses on Poor People’s Campaign

Most school children in the United States learn about Martin Luther King Jr.’s renowned 1963 speech and the March on Washington. But fewer people know about the civil rights activist’s later effort to create a Poor People’s Campaign.

The effort to bridge income inequality is something Dick Hall thinks is just as relevant today as when Dr. King announced the campaign in 1967.

Hall is one of the organizers of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, known as Blessed are the Peacemakers, at St. Augustine’s-in-the-Woods Episcopal Church, 5217 Honeymoon Bay Road. This year’s gathering takes place 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19.

“It’s very significant in the fact that our economy now has a huge gap between the wealthiest 1 percent and the rest of us,” Hall said of the campaign.

He said the issue is just as prevalent on Whidbey Island, especially on the South End. He volunteers at a nonprofit that provides grants to people who need help paying rent or utilities. He said many of the people are working but are having a hard time because of the rising cost of living on the island.

Sunday’s event will feature what he calls “interactive” readings about the campaign, in which King invited Native American, Hispanic and poor white communities to join in an effort to demand jobs, unemployment insurance, fair minimum wage and education for poor adults and children, according to Stanford’s Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute.

In between talks, songs from the civil rights movement will be performed. Karl Olsen has been directing the musical portion of the annual event for the past 15 years.

“The people are invited to join in singing with all the energy they’ve got,” Olsen said in an email.

He’s been involved in issues of racism since high school and especially after attending classes with noted social activists Vincent and Rosemarie Harding, he said.

“Racism has been called the original sin of the United States, and it seems only right to do what we can to address the situation and make it right,” Olsen said. “My part has always been music, so that’s where I fit in.”

Sunday’s gathering will also feature songs “that support the universal struggle for inclusion, human rights and dignity for all people,” he said.

A main focus of the event is always white privilege, Hall said. He realizes South Whidbey isn’t particularly diverse and said it’s important to recognize the advantages many residents have received in life.

Speakers will discuss the modern revival of the Poor People’s Campaign and “honor the best attributes and values of American society,” Hall said.

• Blessed are the Peacemakers will take place 3 p.m. Jan. 19 at St. Augustine’s-in-the-Woods Episcopal Church, Freeland.

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