Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a traditional time to quote King's powerful "I Have a Dream" speech.

However, I would like to deviate from that good custom by sharing a quote from the speech that King's son, Martin Luther King III, delivered at the dedication of his father's memorial in Washington, D.C., last November.

He said: "Yes, my father had a dream. It was a dream that was deeply embedded in the American dream. The problem is the American dream of 50 years ago has turned into a nightmare for millions who have lost their jobs and homes. The nation has lost its soul when it tolerates such vast economic disparities ... and has more people of color in prison than in college."

I read that quote with great sadness, because I know that Minnesota's racial disparities in employment, income, housing and education are among the worst in the nation.

The Minnesota economy overall is stronger than the national economy, but our racial disparities are worse than average. It hurts our pride to say that, but isn't it better to acknowledge the very real problems that are holding back our community rather than pretending they don't exist?

A recent research report titled "Uneven Pain: Unemployment by Metropolitan Area and Race," published by the Economic Policy Institute, reported that the rate of African-American unemployment in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area is more than three times that of whites (20.4 percent vs. 6.6 percent in 2009).

Racial disparities have existed in our community for a long time. Although their causes are complex and deep-seated, we can and must find the will and means to eliminate these weaknesses.

Our state and metro area cannot prosper in the face of such disparities. Every citizen of Minnesota deserves a chance to discover their potential, achieve their dreams, and contribute to the state's economic and social well-being.

Let us all commit ourselves to ending these disparities. By doing so, we will truly honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and bring his magnificent dream to fruition.


Debbie Atterberry  is president of RESOURCE, a nonprofit organization that provides services in the areas of employment and training, mental health and chemical health.