As the United States continues to reckon with its legacy of racism, Martin Luther King III said the time has come for older civil rights leaders to step aside in favor of younger activists.

“They’re not going to tolerate the kind of things that we kind of accepted for years and years,” King said of the young people who mobilized nationwide last summer following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. “These changes are going to have to happen, and they’re going to have to happen very soon.”

King delivered his remarks Monday in a prerecorded message on the national holiday that honors his slain father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The webcast was sponsored by the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, which hosts an annual MLK Day breakfast to benefit the McCrorey YMCA. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s event was held virtually.

King, the eldest son of the renowned civil rights leader, spoke on a number of topics, including his enduring belief that freedom, justice and equality for all humankind can be achieved.

“I always say every January, ‘While we did not fulfill the dream last year, it’s very interesting that we have an opportunity, in my judgment, to fulfill elements of that dream this year,’” King said.

To bridge the gap in our divided country, King said we must look to close the nation’s wealth gap. Before the pandemic began, he said, Black families in the United States had managed to accumulate, on average, about $15,000 in net wealth, far less than the $170,000 accumulated, on average, by their White counterparts.. 

King said the nation must make resources available to African American businesses so that more of them can grow. He also called for addressing the practice of redlining in the insurance industry.

“When you live in a certain area, your insurance is much lower than if you’re living in an urban community,” he said. 

Another barrier that disproportionately affects Black people, King said, is access to affordable health care. 

“In the United States of America, everyone should have the best health care,” he said. “It’s something wrong with our system as it relates to health care, and particularly health care for the poor and communities of color.”

With Covid-19 affecting Black communities more severely, King said the need for health care is dire. 

“If we’re the ones impacted the most, then we also need to get a larger share of assistance and support, and I think that is a part of what we hope to see happen,” he said. 

King said Black Americans must continue to demand accountability from the health care system, even as national polls show that many Black residents harbor a deep distrust of the Covid-19 vaccinations that are needed to save lives. 

King also turned his focus on large corporations, which he said are “changing their complexions” and hiring or promoting Black people. Still, he said it’s abysmal that only four or five Black CEOs are heading Fortune 500 companies, especially when Black people make up 13% of the nation’s  population. 

“The only thing they understand is profits and losses,” King said of the big companies. “When we impact their profits, then they will begin to understand our community and the power our community has, and then we will begin to see a different kind of corporate investing.”

Jonathan is a former QCity Metro reporter who covered Charlotte neighborhoods north of uptown. He also reported on education, public safety and health.

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