Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision: Are we there yet?

By Frances G. Padilla

Reflecting on the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today is a bittersweet undertaking. While we have progressed from the world King lived in, we still have much further to go as a nation to actualize the dream he imagined for his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

Though many remember King as fighting against racism, he actually dedicated his life to fighting what he called the triple evils of poverty, racism, and militarism.

“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we now have the resources to get rid of it. The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty … The well off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.” -King

King’s words sting with relevancy today, particularly in the fight for universal health care. Here at the foundation, we believe that health care is a fundamental right, and that this work is part of a broader movement for social and economic justice.

Health care is inextricably to justice. Without health, the ability of people to pursue a meaningful life is seriously jeopardized. Without comprehensive and accessible health care, people suffer financially, physically, and mentally. In our world today, we as voters and thinkers are being challenged as to where on the moral compass we fall in regard to the health of our population.

But health care isn’t just about poverty, it’s also about race and ethnicity. While Connecticut is one of the healthiest states in the nation our shortcomings are clear among low income folks, and then even clearer among people of color.

A report recently released by the Connecticut Health Foundation made this abundantly clear. Babies born to black mothers in our state are more than four times more likely to die before their first birthday than babies born to white mothers, Black residents are nearly four times as likely as white residents to have a diabetes-related lower-extremity amputation, and more than twice as likely to die from diabetes. Black children and teens are nearly five and a half times more likely than their white peers to go to the emergency department because of asthma. Black men are nearly twice as likely to die from prostate cancer as white men.

We see the same patterns with our state’s Latinx population as well. The same report found that one in six Hispanic residents were uninsured. Hispanic teens were also more than four times more likely to go to the emergency department for asthma than their white peers. Hispanic adults are nearly three times as likely as white adults to undergo a lower extremity amputation as a result of complications from diabetes, and they’re more than twice as likely to have the disease in general.

Each fact is an indictment of our progress, acting as proof that as a state we have a long way to go before King’s vision is realized.

It’s easy to pat ourselves on the back for the progress made since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s as we enjoy this long weekend. It’s more uncomfortable to look at ourselves and assess all the ways we are still failing to live up to King’s vision, including our for-profit health care model.

Until we make real strides toward quality, affordable, equitable health care for all, we are willfully ignoring an enormous obstacle for the prosperity and well-being of low-income Black, Latinx and other people of color in our state and beyond.

Keep funding the dream, today.