Hope Around the Curve

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Brings Reminder of Hope

by Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director – United Way of Charlotte County

Local efforts to reduce poverty feel as though they have taken three steps back since the onset of COVID-19. United Way of Charlotte County and other non-profit agencies have tightened our budgets and ramped up our efforts, aiming to not fail a single resident in need.

But the increased need since 2020 has been disheartening. In Martin Luther King Jr.’s last book, “Where Do We Go From Here:  Chaos or Community,” published the year before he died, he reminded us, “The line of progress is never straight. For a period a movement may follow a straight line and then it encounters obstacles and the path bends. It is like curving around a mountain when you are approaching a city. Often it feels as though you were moving backward, and you lose sight of your goal; but in fact you are moving ahead, and soon you will see the city again, closer by.”

While King focused the majority of his activism on racial inequalities, he also saw the similar systemic inequalities faced by those living in poverty, regardless of their race. For example, his hand of activism and advocacy was seen prominently in the labor movement. He strongly supported labor unions as a means for the low-wage worker to have a voice. And he was instrumental in the development of Operation Breadbasket, which included strategies for boycotting products of companies that refused equitable labor negotiations.

Although King fought for true, dramatic change in the state of this nation, he more often found slow, sometimes ineffective “change” with each new curve in his path. Yet, King trudged on. He found strength in what he referred to as, “the one thing that keeps the fire of revolutions burning: the ever-present flame of hope.”

King knew the power of peaceful protests, and positive, hope-filled messaging. He saw the downfall of radical activists whose movements were, “born of despair.”

We can reflect on the past two years and feel justified in being disheartened at the three steps back we may have taken in our fight against poverty in Charlotte County. We cannot, however, be without hope that progress is just around the curve.

Despite a pandemic, we have still been able to transform local lives. During our 2020-2021 grant cycle:

  • 71,013 individuals were provided food from a partner agency food pantry.
  • 52,150 home-delivered meals were served to seniors.
  • 80% of unsheltered Veterans were sheltered within 24 hours.
  • 873 children received financial assistance for early education opportunities.
  • 20,720 volunteer hours were spent mentoring at-risk youth.

And this is just a sampling of the great work done through United Way of Charlotte County’s partner agencies.

The need is great; in fact, it’s greater. But we focus on the hope we have in a future where we can break the cycle of poverty in Charlotte County. We are disheartened for a moment, but we do not despair.

As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2022, we can honor King’s legacy by remembering what he stood for; what he was willing to die for. His wife, Coretta Scott King, summed it up best when she said, “It is our common tragedy that we have lost his prophetic voice but it would compound the tragedy if the lessons he did articulate are now ignored.”

For more information about United Way of Charlotte County’s mission:  Mobilizing the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty, please contact Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director. She can be reached at director@unitedwayccfl.org.