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NY Observes Anniversary of MLK Death Today

April 4, 2011

ALBANY, N.Y. - From public employees to child care workers, many New Yorkers are pausing today to honor the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As they remember him, they are drawing connections between his work on behalf of America's disenfranchised and the problems facing today's poor and working families.

From the national office of the Parent-Child Home Program on Long Island, Sarah Walzer says if King were alive today he would be fighting for an organization like hers, which coordinates school readiness and literacy programs. She adds that early child development programs are facing the budget-cutter's axe on Capitol Hill.

"It's a bit of a mark of how little has changed in 40-plus years."

Organized labor also is holding Martin Luther King Day observances all over the state this week, reminding workers that when Dr. King was shot on this day in 1968, he was in Memphis, Tenn., helping sanitation workers fight for collective bargaining rights - rights that are still being fought over in many states today.

Stephen Madarsz of CSEA, which represents 3,000 New York government employees, says statewide and nationwide observances are being held today and all week, under the auspices of an organized labor campaign called "We Are One." He explains why union members are honoring Dr. King.

"What this week is all about is trying to bring back those historic ties between the Civil Rights Movement and working people and getting people to work constructively together for progressive change."

In the last year of his life, Dr. King formed the Poor Peoples' Campaign, expanding his agenda from its previous focus on civil rights to jobs, income and housing. Walzer says poor people today are in danger of losing early child development programs that help, ultimately, to lift them out of poverty.

"Failure to expand those services to keep up with the growing number of children under age 5 living in poverty is going to have repercussions for decades to come, because those are the children who are going to enter school unprepared to be there, who will not move through school successfully."

When he was shot and killed, King was advocating for the sanitation workers in Memphis, who were trying to form a union, Madarazs says.

"I think it's really, in many respects, a tremendous measure of his life that he was there, standing up for people who really had no voice at that time."

Among MLK Day observances are a rally and candlelight vigil tonight at the Albany Public Library. A list of the week's events in New York State and around the country can be found at www.WeR1.org.


Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY