As school children read and recite the words Martin Luther King spoke on Aug. 28, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. — and as millions of Americans take a moment to reflect upon King’s vision and legacy — it’s important to remember that, at the time of King’s most famous speech, there were a substantial number of Americans who did not share the civil rights icon’s opinion that “one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed… that all men are created equal.”
Even today, there are many people who might respect King’s work, appreciate his legacy and believe in his words while still buying into an ideology of inequity. Among these fundamentally decent people are those who have been led to believe that most people who struggle to maintain employment are primarily to blame for their own plight.
It is these voices that have all-too-often prevented hand-up initiatives, like the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act programs being launched in every state in the nation this year, from taking root. Yet as we celebrate the 87th year since King’s birth, and quickly approach a half-century since his death, we have reached a historic moment of opportunity for those who have not enjoyed an equally privileged path to a high school diploma, higher education and occupational training en route one of the most basic aspects of participation in the American Dream: A solid job.
WIOA was, after all, an overwhelmingly bipartisan piece of legislation that is being implemented with the cooperation of governors and workforce investment boards across the country, regardless of political ideology. In a time in which it often seems we can agree on little else, Americans have elected leaders who fundamentally agree that helping more Americans become workforce ready means offering more educational and occupational training opportunities for those whose paths have been a bit rockier — but who still dare to dream of a better future for themselves and their children.