Elaine Baker, Ph.D., Joins Panelists in Analysis of Historical Occurrence, The Poor People’s Campaign
From COAHOMA COMMUNITY COLLEGE
by Melody Dixon
At a recent black history observance, Professor Emerita Elaine Baker, a guest panelist who taught social work at Albany State University, a historically black college located in Albany, Georgia, told attendees that people have to find in themselves a reason to do better in order to be freed from poverty.
The theme of the occasion ‘The Poor People’s Campaign: Yesterday’s Injustice, Today’s Inequality’ related the past issue of poverty to present times.
The Poor People’s Campaign of 1967 and 1968 was pioneered by notable Civil Rights Leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was, thereafter, continued in Washington where it received media coverage.
“There is a crisis and I want to urge you as Coahoma Community College students, faculty, staff and parents to become committed to lifting up ourselves and deepening the leadership of those most effected by systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation,” Baker said.
During a panel discussion of between Baker and two students attending Coahoma Community College—graduating sophomore and aspiring activist Christian Rucker, sophomore and computer information systems major George Taylor IV, Honors College student Miltesha Nelson moderated a discussion centered on helping impoverished communities in the Mississippi Delta become financially stable.
Upon graduating from CCC, Christian Rucker, who was born in Cleveland, Mississippi and raised in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, plans to attain his bachelor’s degree in social work at Jackson State University.
Both Rucker and Taylor agreed that the problem the poor faced during the Campaign was government funding.
“Government did not want to fund the people as a whole,” Rucker said. “When you have middle class, poor and high class, somebody has to help the poor. If you don’t give a person the opportunity, you take away their liberty and their equality.”
He expressed that we should seek to back political candidates who are concerned with bettering the poor who are struggling to make it from day to day.
If we don’t, there will be a continuous cycle of downfall, Rucker said.
Taylor stated that individuals who participated in the march on Washington for the Poor People’s Campaign were being cast away and that individuals who are barely able to sustain decide whether they will continue letting their situation remain stagnant or actually work toward resolving it.
Almost at age 70, Baker reflected on growing up poor in a two-room house in Mound Bayou, Mississippi and picking cotton for about 3 cents a pound. Her mom earned $3 a day working as a cook with a fourth grade education. She told the audience she had always believed there was something else. Following her intuition led to awe-inspiring accomplishments including graduating cum laude from Tougaloo College with her bachelor’s degree in sociology and earning her master’s in social work in 1970 from the Atlanta University School of Social Work. She received her doctorate from the University of Georgia in 1986. She serves as the president of the Bolivar County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc., volunteers her time to her local community and is proud about her continuation of lifelong learning.
“I believe in the dismantling of unjust criminalization systems that exploit poor communities and communities of color for the transformation of a war economy into a peace economy,” she said, adding that there needs to be a change in moral legacy.
Just because you’re poor, that doesn’t mean you don’t have value, she said.
She reminded the students at the event that they are the brain power of today and the future and encouraged them to believe in themselves, adding meaning to her words by leaving with the audience members sheets of paper reading a nicely designed message: Sometimes the right path is not the easiest one.
Learn to survive in a multicultural world, she advised.
“Don’t limit yourself to people who look like you, who are your same gender, same religion,” Baker said. “Just believe you can do it.”
Honors College Director Jeremy Pittman concluded the discussion with remarks expressing how the issue of hunger in America overrides the current controversial political topic of building a $5 billion wall to keep illegal immigrants out of the country. He urged the students to immerse themselves in knowledge.
“This is a moral imperative because we have to make sure that we are fighting against the common exploitation of people,” Pittman said.
“By the time Dr. King was assassinated, he was advocating for human rights, which transcends race, gender, sexual orientation. It’s about the common core of who we are.”