One of Martin Luther King Jr.'s last speeches was in Jersey City, New Jersey. Just days before he was assassinated, Dr. King addressed over 2,000 cheering supporters at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church on Belmont Avenue. That Wednesday evening, he brought together people from all walks of life and presented his vision of solidarity and unity, as well as hope in the future.
He encouraged the audience to support his upcoming Poor People's Campaign which was slated to kick off in Washington on April 22, 1968. "If you can't fly, run. If you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, crawl -- but move," he exclaimed. Tragically, he never made it to the march.
Still, his message in Jersey City that day was -- and remains -- clear. In America, everyone is entitled to a fair chance to climb the rungs of success. At the church, his supporters included doctors, lawyers and wealthy businessmen who sat next to welfare mothers. There were teachers and students, ministers, priests, nuns, a group from the anti-war Catholic Peace Fellowship and young girls from the Jersey City Job Corps Center for Women, according to a report from the Jersey Journal.
This enduring image of Dr. King in Jersey City -- the diversity of his audience -- is prevalent in our own time nearly 50 years after his assassination. Certainly great progress has been made but his vision for America has not yet been fully achieved.
Too many Americans have not had a real opportunity to succeed, and turning a blind eye to their plight is not a policy, it's a dereliction of responsibility for all of us as citizens. In Jersey City we take that responsibility seriously.
Last year, we opened Martin's Place, a prisoner re-entry center that is the first of its kind in New Jersey and serves as a national model for reintegration by coordinating all the necessary services for this diverse population.
At Martin's Place, we coordinate and streamline a myriad of reintegration tools to provide clients with addiction treatment, sober housing, and employment training. The center assists the unemployed and ex-offenders with addiction recovery, and transitional housing, as well as job training and employment. It is a home of second chances, which will assist people in living productive lives through faith, recovery, and work.
To date, we are encouraged by the results and hope Martin's Place will be replicated in city after city.
In the Marines, we are taught never to leave a man behind. Dr. Martin Luther King believed similarly. As we celebrate his life and achievements today -- and everyday -- it is our responsibility as Americans to leave no one behind. That's the best way to honor Dr. King.
Steven Fulop is Mayor of Jersey City, NJ.