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Poverty efforts are at focus of local King Day celebration
Rose Johnson, left, executive director of the Newtown Florist Club, and Frank Medina, pastor of Restoration Community Church in Gainesville, lead a discussion on poverty in Hall County on Thursday night. The event was one in a weeklong series addressing poverty as part of the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday celebration.

Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday annual march

What: Annual MLK day rally and celebration: Remembering the “Poor People’s Campaign”

Where: Begins at the Butler Center in Gainesville, 1300 Athens St.

When: March starts at 1 p.m. Monday, concludes at 2 p.m. at the Fair Street School and is followed by a celebration and keynote speech

Black business brunch highlights minority entrepreneurs

When you’re growing up, there’s a natural assumption everyone else in the world lives the same as you do.

“I didn’t know I was poor myself,” said Frank Medina, pastor of the Restoration Community Church in Gainesville, recalling his humble beginnings at a community gathering last week that was part of a weeklong series in celebration and commemoration of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Beyond our front doors, there are homes, families and communities entrenched in poverty. But something is being done about it locally.

Rose Johnson, executive director of the Newtown Florist Club civil rights organization, said the Gainesville and Hall County community has been galvanized in the last year to build upon a generation of efforts to fight poverty.

There are about 32,000 residents in Hall County who live below the poverty line, according to census figures. They are a diverse group: black, white and Latino, young and old, men, women and children.

The Florist Club, United Way of Hall County, Concerned Citizens of Gainesville-Hall County, local ministries and missions, nonprofits, businesses and local government have all come together to support initiatives to raise up these least among us, Johnson said.

“A lot of incredible work is going on,” she added. “People are assuming responsibility for their own liberation.”

The focus on King’s “Poor People’s Campaign” this year included teach-ins, community organizer training, workshops, youth events, a black business brunch and spiritual congregation, all leading up to the annual peace march on Monday.  

King’s message of economic equality ran part and parcel with his message of racial equality.

Between May and June 1968, just months after King’s assassination, civil rights activists protested on the Washington Mall to call attention to economic disparities in minority and working-class communities across the nation.

Johnson said that while those in financial straits need our helping hand, they are not poor in spirit. They just lack opportunity.  

During one community event this past week, Michelle Mintz, a minister at St. John Baptist Church who helps lead the Concerned Citizens of Gainesville-Hall County group, asked those in attendance to question their assumptions about those living in poverty and how we address their needs.

They are questions local activists want the wider community to consider, as well.

“Do I accept that people working full time are paid wages that keep them in poverty?”

“Do I accept that many parents can’t afford child care they need to go to work?”

“Do I accept that our public schools are separate and unequal, with some kids forced to share textbooks while just miles away an affluent community has state-of-the-art facilities?”

“Do I propagate myths and stereotypes about people living in poverty, or do I help spread the truth?”

“Do I embrace the real evidence that shows just how far a little assistance can go to improve life outcomes for people in poverty?”