Honoring Dr. King's Legacy

15 Jan, 24

Dear Friends,

On a warm October evening 56 years ago, some 4,000 people gathered at Sam Houston Coliseum on Bagby Street to hear what would be Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last Texas speech. On that night in Houston, he called for a bold vision of economic justice and challenged people to reject gradualism and tokenism. He knew the danger of stall tactics and that no one should settle for “a piece of freedom.”

Dr. King understood that prosperity, freedom, and the true promise of this nation would remain elusive as long as millions of people were bound by poverty and shut off from economic opportunity.

Today, I reflect on Dr. King’s vision for economic justice and freedom for all, and the work we’re doing in Harris County to realize it.

Despite our region’s vast prosperity, Harris County has some of the worst economic inequality in the country, with high rates of poverty in neighborhoods that experienced decades of neglect and inequitable investments. The pandemic and soaring costs have made it worse, taking a toll on families and undermining our region’s economic health and overall well-being.

Harris County is working to bridge the economic divide through our Harris PROSPERS initiative. We’re building and preserving housing to make sure everyone has access to a safe, healthy, and affordable place to call home. We’re helping families access healthy food and high-quality childcare. We’ve partnered with unions to launch a nationally recognized apprenticeship program so people in Harris County can pursue a career while earning a living wage, and we adopted worker safety requirements for county contractors.

Our boldest move to realize Dr. King’s vision is the launch of the Uplift Harris Guaranteed Income pilot program to provide almost 2,000 families in targeted high-poverty zip codes a recurring, monthly cash payment that they can directly use to make ends meet and care for their family. Guaranteed income programs from across the country have helped reduce poverty while improving a family’s stability, economic mobility, and overall well-being by trusting and empowering people with the resources they need to support their household.

Dr. King’s visionary call for economic justice, fair housing, and anti-poverty programs marked a significant turning point in the civil rights movement. Six months after his last visit to Houston, he took the fight for economic justice to Memphis, where his life was cruelly taken. I can think of no better way to build on and honor Dr. King’s legacy than to take decisive action, recognizing the simplest and most effective solution to poverty is to eliminate it.

In Harris County, we will continue to fight to ensure every family has access to resources and the opportunities they need to thrive. In the words of Dr. King, “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

Rodney Ellis

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