Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy lives on — in Venezuela

Dr. Malveaux reflects on her recent trip to Venezuela, along with other members of the TransAfrica Forum, to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday in Caracas, Venezuela

This article was originally published in the January 16, 2004 edition of the USA Today. The photo below was inserted by Venezuelanalysis.com to complement the article.

People too often celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. as a “dreamer” who envisioned a day when people would be judged by their character, not the color of their skin. That was not all he wanted, or what Monday’s holiday is entirely about.

Although King is an icon of the civil rights movement, he hardly belongs only to African-Americans. As he underscored in his Nobel Peace Prize speech when he asserted his “audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits,” King championed all people living in poverty worldwide.

I was delighted, therefore, when I traveled with others from the TransAfrica Forum to celebrate King’s birthday in Caracas, Venezuela. We went with Minister of Education Aristobulo Isturiz to open a school named after King.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux, actor Danny Glover and other members of TransAfrica, during a visit to a health clinic for the poor at the working-class Caracas neighborhood of El Onoto on Jan 8th, 2004.
Photo: Venpres

It’s among more than 3,000 “Bolivarian” schools created since Hugo Chavez became Venezuela’s president in 1999. The schools, open all day, provide two meals and a snack to poor children.

There’s also a new Bolivarian University, which increases higher education’s availability, especially to poorer students. Further, more than a million adults have taken literacy classes in the past two years.

Chavez has taken his message of economic justice from Venezuela to the whole of Latin America. He opposes a free-trade agreement for the Americas and suggests that a development fund be established to help poor Latin American countries withstand economic oscillations and eliminate poverty.

Not surprisingly, Chavez and George W. Bush have clashed because of their different views of Latin American economic development. Chavez, for instance, appropriately described national security adviser Condoleezza Rice as “illiterate” about Latin American politics and economics.

Many middle- and upper-class Venezuelans chafe at Chavez’s leadership and support a recall initiative now underway. But with poverty in double digits, it is hard to quibble with the way Chavez has embraced poor Venezuelans and focused on eliminating poverty through education — in some ways, more than our own government has done here.

King was more visionary than dreamer. Parts of his vision now are being implemented — in Venezuela.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux, is an economist, motivational speaker, civic leader and author. She is a member of the board of directors of the TransAfrica Forum. Her website www.juliannemalveaux.com features several of her books and articles.

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