How Dr. King's work still influences fight against poverty in California today

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not just a fighter for racially equality in America. He also believed that eradicating poverty would help transform the quality of people’s lives and create equality for all Americans.  

Poverty or people not being able to make ends meet is nothing new. Rising housing costs here in California have made it even harder for people to survive. Today as we examine the life and work of Dr. King, KTVU talked to people who say it’s their mission to help those struggling economically in the Bay Area and throughout the state.  

Nearly 55 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the legacy of his life, his work and the battles he fought, continues to influence the activism of some Californians today. Dr. King often campaigned to end poverty in America, something state Economic Mobility Advisor Michael Tubbs knows all about.  

"Before I went to Stanford, before I became Mayor, before I was in basic income programs, I was growing up in poverty and watching my mother work incredibly hard. Watching neighbors and friends do everything they were told to do and still not be able to pay rent," Tubbs said.   

Tubbs was elected Mayor of Stockton in 2016 and was the first Mayor in the nation to offer $500 in guaranteed income for two years to its residents. He also founded End Poverty in California last year and in partnership with the state, has been conducting a state-wide listening tour to hear first-hand from people living in poverty.   

"I learned about guaranteed income studying about Dr. King in college. In his last book, Where Do We Go from Here, he talked about how we try to solve poverty by solving for everything else and maybe the best way to solve for poverty was to be direct," Tubbs said.   

United Way Bay Area released a report last week showing 49% of the calls received on their 2-1-1 helpline in a 3-month period, were about housing insecurity and a lack of basic needs like groceries. The Bay Area group serves about 600,000 households, 80% of them people of color.  

"I think it says a lot, that we’re still living in a system that isn’t working for everyone and there’s a real need for change. There’s a real need for resources," said Kelly Batson, Chief Community Impact Officer for United Way Bay Area. 

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Batson says United Way Bay Area helps people with basic necessities, housing assistance, employment opportunities and tax preparation; all important factors to keeping people out of poverty.  

"It’s our mission to mobilize others, the whole Bay Area, around dismantling the root causes of poverty, like Dr. King would also say that he was dedicated to," Batson said.   

Both Tubbs and Batson say there is funding to address California’s poverty issues, but institutional policy changes are needed to bring forth equality for all.