Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered for his vision of a world without racism, but less widely known is his message of economic justice. The Reverend understood that racial and class oppression were inextricably linked; during the late 1960s poverty was increasingly central to his rhetoric and activism. Dr. King was deeply involved in organizing actions with the Poor People’s Campaign for economic opportunity and equality. Just before his assassination in 1968, he traveled to Memphis to support the city’s sanitation workers on their strike for fair wages and safe working conditions.
Dr. King wrote in 1967, “The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization… The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.”
Sadly, Dr. King’s words about poverty remain true in today’s America. Although unemployment in the U.S. is the lowest it has been since 2000, many workers are still struggling to make ends meet. In 2016 41 million people, or 13 percent of the population, were living in poverty; 43 percent of all children in America live in low-income families. Poverty comes in many shapes and sizes, and it is often compounded by other injustices such as racial, gender-based, and environmental inequity.
This weekend, we honor the legacy of Dr. King by featuring films from the POV archives that can serve as teaching tools to discuss race and economic inequality in America. Going beyond the statistics and policy, these films answer questions such as, what is the daily reality of living under the poverty line? What is it like to live paycheck to paycheck or without health insurance? To rebuild a home after natural disaster? Whether you know these experiences firsthand or are learning for the first time how they feel, bring the conversation to your classroom or community with one of the following POV films.
These films and their companion materials are available through our free DVD Lending Library for community or classroom screenings. Sign up in the POV Community Network to borrow these (and many more) documentaries. Visit our Educators Page to access free standards-aligned lesson plans and streaming clips.
Waging a Living documents the uphill battle that low-wage earners face as they work to lift their families out of poverty and try to achieve the American dream. Screen the Film | Download the Discussion Guide | Explore the Lesson Plan | Check out the Reading List
Raising Bertie chronicles the coming of age of three African American boys in Bertie County, North Carolina as they navigate the institutional racism, educational inequity, and job scarcity that so often characterize life in rural America. Screen the Film | Download the Discussion Guide | Explore the Lesson Plan | Check out the Reading List
A timely look into the failures of the healthcare system, Critical Condition explores what happens when workplace accidents and unexpected diagnoses leave uninsured workers without jobs, without homes, and hampered by medical debt. Screen the Film | Download the Discussion Guide | Explore the Lesson Plan | Check out the Reading List
I’m Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and The Beautiful follows the unstoppable title character over the course of five years as she rebuilds her home and her New Orleans community in the devastating wake of Hurricane Katrina. Catch the film during its encore broadcast on PBS for POV’s 30th Anniversary Marathon, starting December 31st. Screen the Film | Download the Discussion Guide | Explore the Lesson Plan | Check out the Reading List
The Overnighters tells the intricate story of workers chasing the oil business boom to North Dakota, where the promise of a paycheck eludes them and the prospect of homelessness looms large until one pastor makes a controversial decision to house the men despite their dubious pasts. Screen the Film | Download the Discussion Guide | Explore the Lesson Plan | Check out the Reading List
In Love & Diane, a mother and daughter, struggling to reconnect after years of forced separation, must move beyond the cycles of addiction and poverty that haunt them both. Screen the Film | Download the Discussion Guide | Explore the Lesson Plan
Did watching one or more of the above films challenge any of your ideas about people who live in poverty, who accept welfare or other types of government assistance, or about people who work with or for you? What changes in employment, social welfare, or health care practices and/or policies do you think could make a difference in their lives?
The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
—President Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 1937
Visit our local events calendar for a full list of events happening across the country and join our Community Network to host a screening of your own! Got a question or an idea? Follow POV’s Community Engagement and Education department on Twitter @povengage and we’ll help you find the right resources for your goals.