Today - Martin Luther King Jr. Day - is an opportune time to reach within and then reach out to help others, as many faculty, staff, students, labor leaders and activists are doing. It is a time to speak up. It is a time to address poverty and inequality, as many are doing on campus and school communities in days of service in honor of Dr. King. Activities range from cleaning up a bay, writing to veterans, joining volunteer organizations, putting together emergency preparedness kits and discussing inequality.
At SUNY Oswego, for instance, Bernice A. King, King's daughter, will speak Friday, Jan. 29. Grammy-winning gospel singer Smokie Norful will perform.
Martin Luther King Day asks us to call attention to poverty and its effects on children and the schools they attend. Equal opportunity was a pillar of his principles.
NYSUT President Karen Magee, speaking at a King Labor Celebration at Hackett Middle School in Albany, said: "No matter where on the political spectrum we might fall – we all can agree that a good education is the very best way to economic and social justice, and to equal opportunity."
It is important that unionists lead the way in celebrating the man's principles, Magee said, because, as a civil rights pioneer, King was also an important friend of labor.
Magee said it's just as appropriate that the event was held in a public school because ensuring access to the best education for children is the responsibility of all of us.
That responsibility is challenging, because New York leads all other states in income inequality. "New York's richest school district is 250 times wealthier than its poorest. The wealthiest group of New York school districts spend 80 percent more per student than the poorest districts do," Magee said.
And yet, the students in these communities need more from their schools, because they have more exposure to violence, poor nutrition, inadequate health care, family insecurity and substandard housing, Magee said.
The school building and the people inside it can mean success or failure.
But since 1982, income and funding inequality have multiplied as state aid to public education has decreased. The state has failed to fund schools according to the Foundation Formula that took root in 2007. The state's property tax cap allows wealthier districts to raise more money than high-need, low-wealth districts. NYSUT believes this is unconstitutional and has gone to court; as it has done with the state's receivership process.
Magee celebrated the Regents support for an initiative to achieve better educational and career outcomes for boys and young men of color. NYSUT will work hard to see they are supported and implemented, she said.
She praised the crowd for dedication to change and opportunity.
The principles of Martin Luther King were also honored in many other ways throughout New York, and in particular on college campuses.
At SUNY Morrisville in Central New York, students and faculty are helping out with community service projects beginning today and running through Thursday. The projects include writing letters to military veterans; making toys for the animal shelter, Wanderer's Rest; creating Valentine's Day cards for seniors at a local center; and taking word quizzes to donate rice to people in need through the World Food Programme. Students and faculty will also join for community discussions on diversity.
"The events promote diversity and what MLK represented; and part of that is community service," according to Jeanette Evans, dean of the School of General Studies.
SUNY Stony Brook and Suffolk County Community College also hosted a day of service in honor of Dr. King's legacy on Saturday. Faculty, staff and students heard keynote speaker Stephen Post, a member of United University Professions higher education union at Stony Brook Health Science Center and author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping. The book uses scientific materials and spiritual insight.
"We can be anywhere, so long as we are helping others and caring for them. This is probably the one source of stability in our lives that we can truly depend on and so, in the end, we are never really out of place." - Stephen G. Post
Representatives from different Long Island volunteer agencies spoke with people about their various programs, and participants also assembled emergency preparedness kits that will be distributed to communities.
Meanwhile, faculty, staff and students from CUNY's City College of New York honored Dr. King with a day of service on Saturday, noting that: "This is not a day to sit down —but rather to stand up for justice, freedom, and equality for all!"
They chose to clean up Jamaica Bay for their service.