04/04/2012 02:28 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2012

Remembering MLK: Standing Up to the Dream Killers

Today, April 4th, 2012, marks the 44th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. It's a good time to reflect on the state of not only Dr. King's dream, but the American dream at large. After all, Dr. King himself described his own dream as one that was "deeply rooted in the American dream." It was a vision for an American Dream made available to all -- a dream for the many, not just the very few. But nearly five decades after his passing, it behooves us to face a disturbing truth: the dream upon which Dr. King founded his own dream is imperiled.

The ideal that Dr. King worked to extend to all was that ours could be a country in which ordinary people -- not just those with great wealth -- could work hard, play by the rules, and make a better life for themselves and their families. Dr. King, and so many others, devoted his life to making that opportunity available to Americans of all backgrounds. But today, those who work the hardest are falling the furthest behind, while those who break the rules are the ones getting ahead. And make no mistake: we know who today's dream killers are. They are in the financial sector. They are big banks on Wall Street. And they are those in the student loan business -- federal and private -- who look to drain the wealth of individuals who want to further their education.

In short, the two pathways from poverty into the middle class -- striving for a good education and home ownership -- are becoming trap doors from the middle class into poverty.

America's families face a wave of foreclosures and a turbulent mortgage crisis. In the past five years, eight million homes have been foreclosed on. One in four mortgages in America are underwater. Stories of homeowners repeatedly applying for loan modifications only to be denied -- or worse, ignored -- are sickeningly common. Mortgage giants Fannie and Freddie should reassess the value of America's mortgages and cut the principal owed to reasonable levels. But the one man with the authority to say yes -- Ed Demarco, head of the Federal Housing Finance Authority -- refuses to do so. Furthermore, individuals seeking higher education are met with deceptive private loans from big banks, or a government trying to double interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans this July 1st.

The African-American community is especially impacted -- with black families three times more likely to be foreclosed on and more than 50 percent more likely than whites to be steered to a subprime predatory loan. This study gives all the gory details:

The mortgage crisis and the growing numbers of indentured students undermine what's left of the American dream. In the spirit of Dr. King, we cannot allow this to stand. Fortunately, individuals and advocacy organizations are fighting back: groups like Rebuild the Dream and New Bottom Line are going on the offensive to strengthen what's left of America's middle class and to support those who are fighting to get into it.

Together, Rebuild the Dream and New Bottom Line launched to draw attention to the wrongdoings of Ed DeMarco, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and the rest of the gang. Americans across the country submitted photos of their homes, depicting the amount their mortgage is underwater ( -$53,000. -$109,000. -$259,000. It goes on.

We're also working with organizations like U.S. PIRG and CREDO to keep in place the plan that cut the interest rate on subsidized Stafford loans from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent. Students who need this aid the most could end up paying up to $5,000 more on their loans. How is that acceptable to anyone? We must encourage the pursuit of higher education -- not make it impossible to achieve.

Dr. King's generation had to fight to extend the dream. We have to work twice as hard. We must both extend the dream to all -- and save the dream for everyone.

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