Thoughts on Equity

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his incredible legacy

January 14, 2022

Thoughts on Equity is a blog series presented by the Kansas Health Foundation to feature written, video and audio content from multiple KHF contributors. Through this blog, KHF will discuss issues of equity, systemic racism, health disparities and how Kansans have the opportunity to shape a more equitable and inclusive future.

Thoughts on Equity: Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his incredible legacy

On the third Monday of January, we have an opportunity to reflect on the incredible legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the work he advocated for that is still left to do.

While the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday was created in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan signed legislation to honor Dr. King for his commitment to equal rights and justice, the journey to recognize it as a holiday started right after his death in 1968 – 15 years earlier. The holiday was finally observed by all U.S. states in 2000 – and in 1985 in Kansas.

Dr. King was an incredible civil rights leader who fought injustice through peaceful protest and delivered some of the most iconic speeches of the 20th century. He organized and led marches so Black people could have the right to vote, in addition to advocating for desegregation, labor rights and other basic civil rights. Ultimately, his civil rights and social justice activism led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Despite his incredible life and leadership, we are still fighting some of the same struggles in 2022. These struggles include systemic racism, voting rights, injustice and grave disparities brought on by discriminatory housing policies like redlining that resulted in the residential segregation we still see today. While great strides have been made, so much work still needs to be done to reach Dr. King’s dream.

In Kansas, the data is very clear.

  • Median household income is considerably less for Black households ($38,079) than for Latino households ($47,203) and White households ($63,078).
  • In Kansas, Black infants are twice as likely as White infants to die before their first birthday.
  • While the state life expectancy in Kansas is 78.6 years, there are 13 census tracks in Kansas where life expectancy is below 70 – most of which are located in historically redlined Black neighborhoods.
  • Sedgwick and Wyandotte counties have some of the greatest health disparities and lowest life expectancies.
  • In Wyandotte, the highest poverty Census tract (61% poverty) is nearly 80% Black, with an annual median household income of less than $13,000.
  • In Sedgwick County, the Census tract with the highest minority population (77% Black), has a high blood pressure rate of 54%, obesity at 52% and diabetes at more than 27%.

Over the next few months, the Foundation will be looking closer at this data, building new partnerships within communities of color and being deliberate about building greater equity into our own organizational practices and grantmaking approaches. We know there is much work to do, but there are signs of obvious commitment to building power and equity, including the report of the Governor’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice. These recommendations were created to advance equity through policing and law enforcement, and social determinants of health – including economics, education and health care. You can find the latest recommendations here.

There are several events that are taking place across Kansas to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In Wichita, you can learn about activities on The Community Voice’s website or the Wichita State University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s website. In Wyandotte County and the KC area, there are a number of events planned, including a virtual event of the KCK Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Celebration on Monday at 11 a.m. on Facebook.

Each of us has the privilege and responsibility to help make Dr. King’s dream become a reality. We will keep you posted about our vision and the work KHF will be doing to move to a more equitable Kansas.


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