King’s legacy serves as a call to arms on crisis in Haiti

by John Payton

Today provides a moment for reflection on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., born 81 years ago on this day. It is also a moment of intense anguish for the survivors and those continuing to suffer in the wake of the tragic earthquake in Haiti.

Throughout his life, Dr. King was committed to achieving equality, addressing discrimination and resolving poverty. These were goals that he set out to achieve both domestically and abroad. In a Dec. 11, 1964, Nobel Lecture, Dr. King observed:

“Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation; no individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for the least of these. In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor, because both rich and poor are tied together in a single garment of destiny – for life is interrelated and all men are interdependent. The agony of the poor diminishes the rich, and the salvation of the poor enlarges the rich.”

Given the searing experience of Hurricane Katrina, it’s hauntingly disturbing to now witness the intensifying humanitarian crisis unfolding in Haiti. We have a responsibility and a duty to do all that we can to alleviate the suffering unfolding in this vulnerable nation.

Before the earthquake, Haiti remained one of the least-developed countries in the Americas with a literacy rate of just 53 percent and nearly 80 percent of the population living in poverty. These numbers are likely to worsen given the total collapse of the country’s infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and government buildings. A long road of rebuilding and recovery lies ahead.

The speed with which we mobilized an aid package to help bail out corporations in the midst of our national economic crisis should shape and inform the relief we now provide to Haiti. Our neighbors in Haiti, just 600 miles from the shore of southern Florida, desperately need immediate relief and meaningful intervention.

Our own recent experience from Hurricane Katrina should serve as a call to arms and propel us to deploy every resource necessary to bring immediate relief and aid to those suffering in Haiti. Dr. King would have certainly compelled as much.

For more information on how you can provide assistance, visit How to show your solidarity with heroic Haiti: resources, where to send donations.

John Payton is president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund, Inc. This commentary originally appeared in The Defenders Online: A Civil Rights Blog. The Bay View added the recommendation for how to provide assistance to Haiti.