- Lewis Diuguidcolumnist and editorial board member at the Kansas City Star. He is also author of Discovering the Real America: Toward a More Perfect Union and A Teacher’s Cry: Expose the Truth about Education Today.
A new report by the University of New Hampshire reveals that nearly 22 percent of America’s children live in poverty. Another study by the the Pew Hispanic Center found that Hispanics now make up the largest group of children living in poverty: 6.1 million Hispanic children are poor, compared with five million non-Hispanic white children and 4.4 million black children. The Pew Center said Hispanic poverty numbers have dramatically increased because of the impact of the recession on the growing number of Latinos. On the heels of this week’s unveiling of the new memorial to Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the National Mall, we speak with Lewis Diuguid of the Kansas City Star who has written extensively on civil rights issues and the impoverished conditions of African Americans. Dr. King would “look at America as being an unfinished work, as it has always been from the start, but particularly when it comes to people of color and when it comes to people who are poor,” said Diuguid. “We have a problem in the country when you see 46 million people are living in poverty, when you see 50 million people have no health insurance… The monument should stand as a testament to the unfinished work.” [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re in Kansas City, and we’re broadcasting before a live audience of public television broadcasters at NETA, the National Educational Telecommunications Association. And it’s a great privilege to be here.
We’re turning, though, now to poverty, the issue of poverty across the United States. A new report released yesterday by the University of New Hampshire reveals nearly 22 percent of America’s children live in poverty. Another study, by the Pew Hispanic Center, found that Hispanics now make up the largest group of children living in poverty: 6.1 million Latino children are poor, compared with five million non-Latino white children and 4.4 million black children. The Pew Center said Hispanic poverty numbers have dramatically increased because of the impact of the recession on the growing number of Latinos.
Well, we’re turning right now to our next guest, who has written extensively on civil rights issues and the impoverished condition of African Americans, which he says are the same as they were in Martin Luther King’s day. Yes, this weekend, President Obama dedicated the Dr. Martin Luther King Monument in Washington, D.C. Lewis Diuguid is a columnist and editorial board member of the Kansas City Star. He’s also author of Discovering the Real America: Toward a More Perfect Union and the book A Teacher’s Cry: Expose the Truth about Education Today.
Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s good to see you again, Lewis.
LEWIS DIUGUID: It’s good to be here. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: This dedication of Dr. King—if he were alive today, what would his thoughts be, do you think?
LEWIS DIUGUID: I think he would look at America as being an unfinished work, as it has always been from the start, but particularly when it comes to people of color and when it comes to people who are poor. We have a problem in this country when you see the 46 million people are living in poverty, when you see 50 million people have no health insurance. When this exists, then all of that flows into the schools. The schools are really ill-equipped to be able to pick up the problems that poverty creates in families and with children and find a way to educate the kids, because the concentration is so scattered. We also have a situation in which the schools are providing breakfast and lunch for children, in which they can’t provide it for themselves, I mean, with free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs. And so, the schools are having to do more and more to help these kids and help these families.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think needs to be done? And what do you think President Obama should be doing right now?
LEWIS DIUGUID: Well, to go back to the dedication of the King Memorial in Washington, D.C., I think it’s great that that’s there. But unfortunately, for a lot people, they’ll see this as being: “We’re done. We don’t have to do anything more. We have satisfied the whole need to address African Americans. The people have their monument. Let’s move on.” But the monument should stand as a testament to the unfinished work. I mean, when King was assassinated, April 4 of 1968, he was on his way to Washington to lead marches that were set up for addressing poverty as an ongoing concern.
AMY GOODMAN: The Poor People’s March.
LEWIS DIUGUID: Absolutely. And at the time, we had a president who really was fixed on making the Great Society programs work. So, there were efforts to make this thing better, but unfortunately, all of the wind has been—I mean, the programs have been dismantled. The effort has been taken apart by Republican and president after president and Congress after Congress saying we don’t need these things anymore. But, in fact, we need them desperately. Who’s going to be able to pay the Social Security taxes, pay the taxes that keep the nation going? If people are living in poverty, if they don’t get a good education, if they are unable to go to college, and then can’t get good jobs, we’re in trouble.
AMY GOODMAN: Describe the schools-to-prison pipeline that you have written about.
LEWIS DIUGUID: It is extensive, and it is kept in good repair. Unfortunately, they say that by third grade the prison system knows how many beds that they’ll need, because of the number of kids who are failing at that point. I’m going to go to Jefferson City today to speak to the men in an NAACP branch of the prison in Jefferson City. And these are individuals who are extremely intelligent, very bright, but unfortunately, the schools let them down when they were trying to get through the system as students. And we need to fix that. I mean, we’re talking about 2.3 million Americans who are in prison. And the majority of those individuals are African Americans and Latinos. This is an unsustainable situation that we have and a trend that isn’t going to abate.
AMY GOODMAN: The Occupy Wall Street movement? What are your thoughts about how President Obama has responded, as he talked in the dedication to the monument of Dr. King about how people 40 years ago faced water cannons, faced police, but they moved forward? What about today?
LEWIS DIUGUID: Well, I love the Occupy Wall Street and the fact that it has rippled not only throughout this country, but it’s also overseas now, because people are giving voice to the fact that we have a huge disparity of wealth in this country, that our young people are unable to find jobs, good-paying jobs that will allow them to live the American Dream. And Obama, if he were smart, should actually go to New York, go to the occupations in Washington, D.C., in Kansas City, in cities throughout the country, and speak to these individuals and get in front of that parade, in a very Clinton-esque way, to show people that he’s concerned. I mean, he ran on the campaign slogan of hope and change, but there’s very little hope, and we’re seeing no change.
AMY GOODMAN: Herman Cain comes from this area, one of the Republican presidential contenders.
LEWIS DIUGUID: He has gotten a lot of traction with his 9-9-9 slogan. It is catchy. But if this country were to adopt something like that, it would be a disaster. And I think that a lot of people are starting to parse his numbers and really see that Cain is showing himself to be able to capture the country’s imagination, but he’s not doing a very good job of really giving people something that’s concrete, something that will be beneficial. But what’s good is that, even in the Republican camp, African Americans are now seeing that they can be president, too—whatever that means.
AMY GOODMAN: There is a—sorry, I just lost my voice for a second—a Honeywell plant that’s being built.
LEWIS DIUGUID: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the controversy there here.
LEWIS DIUGUID: There is a group in Kansas City, a peace group, and I’ve been following the efforts of peace groups for a long, long time. And this group is really set against the construction of this new plant in far south Kansas City. There had been, and there continues to be, a plant that’s on Bannister Road, and that plant had existed for decades, but the new plant is going to give them greater capabilities to produce non-nuclear components for nuclear weapons. And the idea of the peace groups getting involved and being against this is that we need to be thinking about green energy concerns. We need to be thinking about ways to push America forward and not push America forward by threatening to destroy the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Can we end on the issue of your community, Kansas City, and how you’d like us to see your city in this country, as we move into the 2012 elections?
LEWIS DIUGUID: Well, Kansas City is in the center of the Heartland. It had been a place of agribusiness for a long, long time. Kansas City is really—it speaks to the values and the culture of the nation. All that you find in America that’s really good, you’ll find it here, whether it’s the Negro Leagues Baseball beginning here, jazz having a heart and soul and a good thump here—
AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.
LEWIS DIUGUID: Kansas City is the home of baseball, football and a lot of good people.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Lewis Diuguid, I thank you very much for being with us, on the editorial board of the Kansas City Star.