Dr. King's legacy needs tending | COMMENTARY

By Greg Taylor
For the Renton Reporter

Fifty years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left us the legacy of his “I have a dream speech.” As we celebrate his birthday here in King County, let us pause and reflect how much our society has changed.

We have come a long way, and many advances have been made, including the first black president in our lifetime. Here in King County we’ve become increasingly more racially and ethnically diverse than any other time in our history.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census report, Renton is now 51 percent people of color, Kent, 51 percent, Bellevue 42 percent, SeaTac 61 percent and Tukwila 62 percent. According to King County demographer Chandler Felt, we’ve become racially and ethnically diverse in South King County at a much faster rate than North King County.

In addition, almost all of the growth that’s occurred in the county within the last 20 years has been due to people of color. Forty-seven percent of all the children in the county are of color, the number is even higher in South King County, which is at 55 percent.

What’s interesting about all of our regional growth is that almost half of it is from immigrants and refugees. To use the phrase, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile” would be an understatement!

We’ve changed dramatically, but many of our policies have not kept up with the new and complex demands of our ethnically diverse communities.

This brings me to what many may be unaware of in South King County. Shockingly poverty has increased at record levels. In the last decade poverty has increased 89 percent in Renton, 74 percent in Kent, 70 percent in Burien and 92 percent in Auburn.

Income inequality is creating a larger gap between the haves and the have-nots. Felt further states that “of King County’s growth in households since 2000, half has been in the low-income bracket (less than $35k); almost half has been in the high-income bracket (more than $125k); and hardly any-just 4 percent of the county’s growth-has been in the middle-income brackets (between $35k and $125k).”

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and having a paid sick- leave ordinance would be a good place to start based on this trend of income inequality. We also need robust job creation, educational and small-business development strategies.

I get choked up every time I visit any of our elementary schools and see the racial and ethnic diversity that is there, kids from different countries all over the world. I get even more excited when I imagine the potential of what our cities could look like and become, if we intentionally created equitable policies and opportunities that ensured that everyone gets a fair shot, does their fair share and plays by the same rules.

It’s also important that every resident young and old from every race and ethnic group has a sense of ownership and connectedness within their community. I believe that city leaders should play a significant role in making this happen. It’ll require genuine curiosity, creativity, and perseverance!

When people feel connected and have a sense of belonging, they become more invested and involved. We must build communities that work for everyone and not just a few!

Dr. King challenged us with his dream and vision, to not trade or compromise, courage for cowardice, hope for hatred, and mercy for mendacity or prosperity for some and poverty for others. He set the compass for us to reach the highest level of compassionate caring humanity. Dr. King said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

Let us do what is right!

Greg Taylor is a member of the Renton City Council. Reach him by email at gtaylor@rentonwa.gov.

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