Heroes don’t always wear capes; sometimes they wear a clergy collar and robes and commit their life to equality and economic justice. After years of successful activism in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II stepped down from leadership roles in 2017 to revitalize Dr. Martin Luther King’s “revolution of values” and the unfinished work of his 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. At a time of persistent divisiveness, pernicious domestic terrorism, and increasing immorality, Barber’s baritone storytelling and unifying empathy are not only a welcome respite but also a healing salve for a country suffering an economic inequality crisis. Barber’s message is reminiscent of Dr. King’s theology: “Pay people what they deserve. Share your food with the hungry. Do this and then your nation shall be called a repairer of the breach.”
Similar to Barber’s direct action through “Moral Mondays,” a series of weekly, racially diverse protests, and the creation of Repairers of the Breach, an ecumenical activist group that trains and organizes religious leaders throughout America, the Poor People’s Campaign is a national call to action “[f]rom Alaska to Arkansas, the Bronx to the border, […] to confront the interlocking evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism and the war economy, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism. [A] movement that will shift the moral narrative, impact policies and elections at every level of government, and build lasting power for poor and impacted people.”
Barber and his passionate warriors work across America to shine the bright light of justice on the facts and faces of wealth and income inequality:
Over 50 million people make less than $15 an hour; while three people have more money than 50% of all Americans combined, over 4 million people earn a sub-minimum wage of $2.13 an hour; and while billionaires and the wealthy have seen a more than $2 trillion increase in their wealth since the pandemic began, 330,000 people died during COVID-19 from a lack of health care.
Barber demonstrates that anti-poverty efforts are not only a moral imperative but are a life-or-death issue in America: 700 people die each day from poverty and inequality, and even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 140 million people suffered impoverishment or low income.
At a time of daily divisive discourse, Bishop Barber believes in inclusive nonviolent engagement through direct action and “fusion coalitions.” Barber, like his role models Reverend Dr. Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King, is a bold and brilliant orator and bridgebuilder who coalesces cross-racial, cross-religious, cross-gender, cross-sexual orientation, and cross-generational coalitions to resist oppression. In his inspiring book, We Are Called to Be a Movement, one of many that he has written or coauthored, Barber implores us to come together to lift up the common good, revive the heart of democracy, and redeem the soul of America. We are fortunate to have such an impassioned, purposeful, and selfless hero to show us how we can prosper together.