King, Jr. Ambassador, Andrew Young visited the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility
in Jackson, Michigan. Situated sixty-five miles from Flint, Michigan the epicenter of an
environmental water crisis, the Ambassador addressed two hundred prisoners "if the
Lord ends up putting you in a place, he will give you the strength not only to survive, but
to overcome." He then reminded the men that it was from a Birmingham jail that Dr.
King wrote a letter that changed the world "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice
Later that week, Ambassador Young was the keynote speaker the finale to Rhode
Island School of Designs (RISD) week long MLK Series. Earlier in the evening
Ambassador Young met with RISD faculty, students and journalists at the College Hill
home of RISD President, Rosanne Somerson. It was there; I met with former
Ambassador Andrew Young. He shared with me an overview of what he discussed at
the reception that we have a responsibility to the poor and to those who are less
I wondered if this responsibility included those incarcerated? So I asked the Ambassador
what he thought about the disproportionate number of African-American males and
Hispanics incarcerated. Mass incarceration amongst black men and minorities is a civil
African-Americans and Hispanics make up only one quarter of the United States
population but made up 58% of those imprisoned in the country according to 2008
statistics provided by United States Justice Department. In Rhode Island
Later that evening at RISD Auditorium, the former Atlanta Mayor and Congressman
addressed an event open to the public. He again doubled down on his statement on
poverty referencing Martin Luther King Jr. who knew him well, said the slain civil rights
leader was addressing three evils in his time: racism, war and poverty.
But when he was killed in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968, Young, who was with him that
day, says that poverty had not been fully addressed. Thats the part thats unfinished,
For Young, poverty helps explain some of what we see play out in the police brutality
between white officers and young black men that has erupted across the nation. In
communities like Providence, Rhode Island there is an underemployment of police and
black youth. In Rhode Island for instance unemployment amongst of African-Americans
is 11% and 14% for young men, ages 18-24.
Once people get locked into poverty, its virtually impossible to get out, he said.
Ambassador Youngs work with organizations like Operation Hope, which, among other
things, looks to address issues like improving credit scores, and helping them to climb
out of poverty. By addressing poverty through improving credit scores, society
addresses poverty without the emotions, the guilt, and the accusations, Young said.
Our society has, in the name of being tough on crime, made a series of policy choices
that have fueled a cycle of poverty and incarceration. We send large numbers of people
with low levels of education and low skills to prison, and then when they leave just as
penniless as they were when they went in. Poverty is Dr. Kings unfinished business.