Symposium Links Dr. King’s Legacy to Modern-Day Struggles in Economic and Social Justice


L-R: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker and Martin Luther King III. Kaveh Photo by Sardari/Page One
L-R: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker and Martin Luther King III. Kaveh Photo by Sardari/Page One

The AFL-CIO and the King Center hosted a national symposium on jobs, justice and the American Dream on Friday around the unveiling of the historic memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The symposium featured notable civil rights activists, modern day worker activists, elected leaders, academics and young people.

The first panel on Jobs and The American Dream was moderated by Bob Herbert, former New York Times columnist and Distinguished Senior Fellow from Demos. Georgia Congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis spoke about his work in the civil rights movement and the parallels to today’s fight for jobs and justice. Bruce Western, professor of sociology at Harvard University, discussed the growing inequality in our country and its impact on communities. Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice, talked about the jobs crisis and mobilizing around a strong jobs agenda. Davon Lomax and Kathleen Hofman, workers from New York and Ohio respectively, told their stories of what working people face in today’s economy as well as the recent attacks on public service employees and middle class workers.

The second panel on Justice and The American Dream was moderated by Univision anchor Maria Elena Salinas. Dr. Mary Frances Berry spoke of where the country is thanks to the legacy and energy of the civil rights movement. Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Wisconsin Firefighters, talked about the modern day struggle to protect working people’s voices. Isabel Castillo, a DREAM activist, told her story of what new young immigrants face today. Kurston Cook, AFL-CIO young worker coordinator, discussed the challenges facing young workers as the new “lost generation.” And Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, spoke of the struggle for equality around LGBTQ rights.

“One of the last acts of my father’s life was advocating for the sanitation workers in Memphis,” said Martin Luther King III. “He firmly believed that workers’ rights were an essential element of civil rights. Moreover, unions and their members were steadfast allies in the movement for human dignity that my father championed. Following his death, my mother remained deeply engaged with labor struggles as a realization of my father’s legacy. I am honored and humbled by labor’s continued support to realize the dream.”


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