Every year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the renowned civil rights leader is celebrated for his unwavering commitment to the nonviolent direct-action approach to achieving civil rights for African Americans. We commend the late Dr. King for his dream of the future, yet we fail to recognize that this dream is far from fulfilled. I was born in Sherman, Connecticut. Of its 3,581 residents, 0.4 percent identify as African American. Upon moving to Waterbury, Connecticut, I was struck by the startling contrast between my place of birth and my current place residence. Twenty percent of Waterbury’s 108,093 residents identify as African American.
According to an article published in The Connecticut Mirror in 2018, The Sherman School was given a performance rating of 90.0%, whereas West Side Middle School, which shares a zip code with my current home, received a rating of just 50.8%. 94% of students within the Sherman School District are white, while only 39% of students within the Waterbury School District are white. Furthermore, the median household income in Sherman, Connecticut amounts to $113,636. The median household income in Waterbury, Connecticut is $41,617. A scant 0.3% of Sherman residents live below the poverty line; meanwhile, 23% of Waterbury residents live below the poverty line. Not only must we consider diversity, academic performance and income in our assessment of racial equality in the United States; we must also take into account rates of incarceration. Forty two percent of inmates in the Connecticut Department of Correction are African American. Twenty nine percent of inmates are white.
Given these statistics, over fifty years after his assassination, the words of Martin Luther King Jr. ring true: “Why is equality so assiduously avoided? Why does white America delude itself, and how does it rationalize the evil it retains? The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.” We must not delude ourselves by presuming that we have achieved racial equality in this country. We must recognize the inherent, endemic inequality present in this nation, and we must elect officials and implement policies that will enact Dr. King’s dream. Let us be dissatisfied with the current state of things. Let us continue the work that Dr. King began.