A different struggle

John Hope Bryant, founder and CEO of Operation HOPE Inc., delivers the keynote speach during the 27th annual MLK banquet at the Paramount Plaza Hotel in Gainesville.

(Brad McClenny/Staff photographer)
Published: Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 10:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 10:34 p.m.

Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 83 years old Sunday, five days shy of the third anniversary of the inauguration of the first black president.

The world is significantly different from the one King left when he was assassinated in 1968, with the civil-rights movement giving way to a struggle over class, said John Hope Bryant, the founder of Operation HOPE, which provides economic education in under-served areas, in his keynote address at the 27th annual banquet honoring King’s legacy in Gainesville.

“The 21st century is about economics. Greece’s problem is not more democracy, it’s too much debt,” said Bryant, a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability.

“Cities and states in the U.S. are not wringing their hands about bathrooms,” he said, referring to previously segregated facilities. “They’re trying to figure out how to pay for the bathrooms.”

Bryant, speaking before a group of local political, business and academic leaders at the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida Hall of Fame banquet, said King understood early on that economic equality was just as important as social equality.

He pointed out that when King was killed, he was in Memphis to push for the labor rights of sanitation workers.

The commission, which is led by former Alachua County Commissioner Rodney Long, inducted Francis “Pat” Fitzpatrick, an outspoken advocate for the homeless and hungry, into its hall of fame at the banquet, citing his work in getting the city’s meal limit on soup kitchens overturned.

Fitzpatrick will make a speech at the King memorial in front of City Hall at 11 a.m. today, followed by remarks by Jennifer Kizza, Eastside High School’s student body president and the winner of the commission’s Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Award.

Long said he met Bryant on the National Mall as the King memorial was being unveiled last year and was able to persuade him to speak at the banquet for free.

Bryant was struck by Long’s enthusiasm.

“The way he talks, it wasn’t really a question,” he said. “Brother was all over me like a cheap suit.”

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