A Lonely Island of Poverty

We watched Martin Luther King Jr.’s (MLK) I Have a Dream speech from August 28, 1963 this morning on YouTube.  We had heard a short clip of the speech on NPR earlier in the morning and I wanted to make sure that Henrik was familiar with MLK’s voice, face and his words.  The segment of MLK’s speech that spoke to me today was, “One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”  

Now, 47 years after MLK spoke those words, skin color still too often dictates access to education, health care and equal pay.  I am especially concerned to read that the poster of the MLK video had to close the video comments because of “hateful and racist” remarks.  I still see that island around me.  How far have we come in nearly half a century?  And, as I continued to listen to MLK’s words, my thoughts wandered to another island, Haiti.  Haitians have been stranded on their island of poverty as the world around them gains greater prosperity.  I first became aware of the poverty in Haiti through Sweet Honey in the Rock’s song, Are My Hands Clean?.

In South Carolina Burlington factories hum with the business of

Weaving oil and cotton into miles of fabric for Sears

Who takes this bounty back into the Caribbean Sea

Headed for Haiti this time—May she be one day soon free—

Far from the Port-au-Prince palace

Third world women toil doing piece work to Sears’s specifications

For three dollars a day my sisters make my blouse


It leaves the third world for the last time

Coming back into the sea to be sealed in plastic for me

This third world sister

And I go to the Sears department store where I buy my blouse

On sale for 20% discount


Are my hands clean?

The song can be heard here and the song’s complete lyrics are here.  I had the opportunity to see Sweet Honey in the Rock in concert in Seattle many years ago.  They use their beautiful voices to share social messages with their audiences.  So, why does a t-shirt have to travel around the world on its journey from seed to shelf?  Haiti has been enslaved by nations and by corporations. 

The islands of poverty of which MLK spoke nearly 50 years ago still exist.  They are geographic islands and metaphoric islands.  On each island, there are individuals.  I can help an individual through a microloan.  That individual can then help their community to transition from poverty to prosperity.  I chose to contribute to a micrloan through MicroPlace.  If you have not made a contribution to the Haitian relief effort yet, or if you are in a position to make an additional contribution, please consider microlending as a way to help Haitians.  Thank you.