Last week, the world paused to observe the life and legacy of one of mankind’s greatest fighters for civil and economic rights, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Just like every other year, parades, marches, public speeches, and community service activities were offered as both recognition of Dr. King’s contributions to society and symbols of an interest in keeping the spirit of his work alive. Yet, this year was especially wrought with criticisms and contradictions between the symbolism of the acts to honor Dr. King and the substance of the actions that continue to be taken that are against what Dr. King stood for.
At the national level, many observers are calling out the blatant hypocrisy being demonstrated by politicians who are waxing poetic about Dr. King’s legacy as a civil rights champion, while at the same time preventing the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Bill (one of the most consequential civil rights legislations in recent history).
At the state level, Florida’s Governor has recently quoted Dr. King, while at the same time pushing a public policy that punishes an honest appraisal and public education about the conditions in this country that made Dr. King’s fight both necessary and difficult.
Here at home, many local elected officials are invoking Dr. King’s name and quoting his speeches while at the same time acting in ways that are diametrically opposed to his legacy in fighting for economic rights. Dr. King described his own mission as one to eradicate what he referred to as America’s three sins: Racism, Poverty and Violence. In the months leading up to the day he was murdered, Dr. King was thoroughly immersed in a Poor People’s Campaign in which he was organizing people of diverse races to demand good job opportunities, guaranteed livable wages and $5 billion per year in investments in affordable housing until ghettos and slums were eliminated.
In the city of Delray Beach, many of the same poor socioeconomic conditions that existed during the times that Dr. King was fighting America’s three sins still persist. In fact, “The Set” – a historically Black community in the heart of Delray Beach – was a planned marginalized community then, and it continues to be marginalized today. In 1935, when Dr. King was just six years old, Delray Beach’s City Council adopted Resolution #146-35 designating The Set as the “Negro Area or Settlement”. From that point on, public policy, public/private investments and consensus community sentiment reflected the existence of two cities – (1) the mostly Black Set that was intentionally excluded from much of the investments in neighborhood development and people improvement and (2) just about everywhere else in the city which has benefitted from public and private investments in neighborhood development over the years.
Today, the residents of The Set are still fighting to eradicate slums and provide residents with good jobs paying good wages. Consider these sobering statistics:
52% of families in The Set are housing cost-burdened. The average family in The Set is paying more than 30% for housing costs. The unemployment rate in The Set is 18% vs. a 9% city average. High School graduation rate is 24% lower than the city average. College degree attainment rate is 77% lower than city average. Median household income is 41.2% compared to the city average where workers earn 67% for same job. 38% of residents have no health insurance coverage.
As in many other historically Black neighborhoods throughout South Florida, the ghosts of racism’s past continue to haunt residents in The Set and prevent the mostly Black residents from building wealth, accessing better jobs and achieving Dr. King’s “dream” of prosperity for all. The entire city of Delray Beach would grow and benefit from the growth and development of The Set neighborhood and its people.
The Set Neighborhood Alliance remains the leading advocacy group which has picked up the mantle carried by Dr. King (as well as many local activists of the past) and has led the fight for civil and economic rights for the people of The Set since 1997. The Alliance focuses on civic engagement, resident leadership development, voting and voter engagement, community education and public policy to support The Set and the vision for the community as identified in The Set Transformation Plan.
The Alliance is composed of volunteer representatives including a Chair of both the Northwest and Southwest Neighborhoods, Neighborhood Presidents, as well as Block Captains who serve as trusted advocates, resource, and important communication links for residents in their blocks.
With a specific intent to ensure that the symbolic good-will displayed in honor of Dr. King translates into meaningful actions to make his dream of “prosperity for all” a reality, we intend to ramp up our efforts this year to improve the lives and prosperity of the residents of The Set. Our short-term goals/demands include:
- Complete Disparity Study on City of Delray Beach procurement activities 2. Update and establish SMART goals and accountability measurements for strategies included in The Set Transformation Plan (found online at https://thesetdelray.org/the-set/). 3. Passing of race and gender-neutral policies such as: a. Community Benefits Agreements b. First Source Hiring Practice 4. The Set Housing Preservation Policy – to repair homes in the Set for elderly residents. 5. Pass a “Housing State of Emergency” – to address the high cost of rent in The Set and create policies that protect tenants. 6. Eliminate antiquated and outdated local housing policies such as: a.) 40 years deed restrictions on the resales of workforce housing b.) Liens placed on homes to be in the housing repair programs c.) Barriers to housing repairs such as overly burdensome insurance requirements.
The South Florida Black Prosperity Alliance – a coalition of advocates for Black prosperity from Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties – supports and has joined our fight here in Delray Beach. We will continue to build alliances with other groups, neighborhoods, business leaders and key stakeholders who support our mission. We will continue to support elected officials who take meaningful actions to improve the lives of residents of The Set, and we will continue to oppose those who don’t. We will loyally support businesses who collaborate with us to increase inclusion and equity in their hiring, procurement, and community investment activities. We will not support those businesses who won’t.
We believe the best way to honor the legacy and sacrifices of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is to continue the fulfillment of his “dream” of prosperity for all. And we believe this starts with focusing on our very own neighborhoods. If you share Dr. King’s convictions to ensure that billions of dollars are invested in creating affordable and safe housing, to ensure that slums and blight in our neighborhoods are finally eliminated, to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to get a job that guarantees a livable wage, and to ensure that injustices against any one is met with demands for justice from everyone, we welcome you to join our fight.
Visit https://thesetdelray.org/ to learn more.
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