“A day on, not a day off.”
This motto encapsulates the national movement that has made Martin Luther King Jr. Day the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities. On Monday, members of the Marymount University community and the Arlington area at large took those words to heart, despite the obstacles posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, through the county’s MLK Day of Service event.
Marymount’s Saints’ Center for Service, in collaboration with the Arlington Community Foundation and Bridges to Independence, hosted a virtual advocacy panel, titled “Understanding the Economics of Poverty.” Featured in the discussion were host Dr. Kelly Dalton, Director of the Saints’ Center for Service, as well as Dr. Brian Hollar, Associate Professor of Economics at Marymount and one of the three panel speakers.
“We are honored to continue the University’s annual participation in Arlington County’s MLK Day of Service, an important day when we recognize the legacy of Dr. King and give back to each other,” Dr. Dalton said. “This year, we’re proud to have collaborated with two of our longtime community partners to discuss the effects of poverty on local families and highlight ways that participants can get civically engaged in these critical issues.”
During the panel, the three speakers – Dr. Hollar, Ann Vor der Bruegge from Arlington Community Foundation and Cicely Whitfield of Bridges to Independence – shared data on disparities, specifically examining the “Cliff Effect” and the challenges it poses to working families. The Cliff Effect, which disproportionately affects minority communities, refers to the drop-off in eligibility for subsidies for health care, food, child care, transportation and housing that working low-income families experience with a minor rise in earnings.
The three panel experts brought their own perspectives on national-level trends from the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., to today, as well as poverty at the local level. They examined challenges facing underserved members of the Arlington community and the organizations working to fill the gaps, including re-employment and permanent housing for families, financial empowerment and youth development.
Dr. Hollar presented data to the virtual audience on racial trends in the U.S. since 1968, the year Dr. King was assassinated. He explained through statistics how, in the past 52 years for Black Americans, college completion rates have more than doubled, poverty rates have roughly halved and incarceration rates have fallen by a third. However, in all of these categories, Black Americans trail other racial groups in a disproportionate manner through these demographic trends.
“There has been great progress since Dr. King’s time, but great problems remain. There is evidence of and hope for change, but still many racial disparities and much work to be done. Problems are more complex than commonly understood and require informed voters and policymakers to address,” Dr. Hollar said. “As an example – according to data from the Washington Post, while police killings of Black Americans have more than halved since 1968, the rate at which Black Americans are killed by police is more than twice as high as the rate for White Americans.”
Also highlighted in the event were stories from families that have been actually impacted in these efforts, in order to spur conversation around solutions that will help families build a bridge to self-sufficiency.
“Our community will become stronger when we understand and advocate for the dismantling of the Cliff Effect,” Dr. Dalton added. “Through this panel, we strove to educate and provide a call to action to the greater Arlington community – all while providing everyone with the civic engagement advocacy tools they can use to make a difference.”
Prior to the advocacy panel, more than 1,400 participants joined Volunteer Arlington during its virtual opening program, as they honored the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and paid tribute to his legacy through service. Dr. Bernice A. King, CEO of The King Center: The Center for Nonviolent Social Change and the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered a special address to the Arlington community.
“My father said, ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question: What are you doing for others?’ This is not a question that we answer on one day, but a question that we must ask and answer throughout our lives,” King explained. “So I challenge you today to take a first step towards a lifelong commitment to improving your community by serving others and eradicating systemic inequities.”