Originally published here.

“If you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl; but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

The famous quote above is from a speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. at Spelman College during their Founders Day celebration in 1960. In it, he expressed his deep concern that society was moving towards wealth hoarding in the name of capitalism and reminded attendees that resources were not scarce, and thus, no one ever needed to be poor. MLK also emphasized the importance of maximizing education through learning and applying moral principles, creativity, and wisdom or control, as these were the arc of a good life and education. At the time of the speech, he noted that the United States spent almost $10 billion annually to store food (while millions lived in desperate poverty).

A practical man, MLK also warned attendees of the importance of maximizing education through learning and applying moral principles, creativity, and wisdom or control. He said these were the arc of a good life and education, and one should pursue them diligently- crawling, walking, and running.

Crawl, walk, run, and fly became a popular project management approach. Its meaning is as simple and profound as the original intent- professionals should aim to tackle executing a project or product in small stages at a time instead of trying to accomplish everything at once. Of course, there are oppositions to this approach. In the for-profit world, businesses often fear their competitors will reach the finish line first. For non-profits, I imagine the opposite is true, moving so slowly or getting stuck in planning that nothing ever gets done.

Even as it may seem, this is not an article about project management. Instead, I attempt to apply MLKs words to community development.

At Medici Road, we regularly discuss the intersection of culture and poverty and solutions. Recently, the team had a delightful conversation centering on Bamboozled, a Spike Lee joint. Although we typically leave these conversations with innovative ideas to potentially develop, our main objective is to create space for dialogue and creative thought.

I was hired to lead one of these innovations. Our Masterclass in Food and Hospitality Management is a training program for food/hospitality workers. Upon completion, participants would earn industry-recognized certificates and management competencies that equip them to be front runners for promotions and management-level jobs. This free mini-MBA program aimed to challenge the narrative about privilege — of money and connections — by tipping it to favor low-wage earners.

To meet our funding requirements, participants needed to get a job paying at least $18.10 per hour (or 120% of minimum wage) and be affected by the pandemic. The first proved challenging. By the end of the 8-month pilot, 25% had jobs, but only 3% met our funders’ requirements. We could argue that $3.10 is negligible (the amount needed to earn 120% above minimum wage). I would contend otherwise. To our participants, it was a decision between risking an increase in rent (which they could not afford at $18.10 an hour) or childcare (another subsidy they risked losing), and the list goes on. Which one of us would choose to earn $18.10? For many, including program participants, it is a zero-sum game. The practice of (arbitrarily) removing benefits as soon as someone starts to earn a few more cents on the dollar, or in this case, $3.10, is a systemic challenge that we need to crawl, walk, if possible, run towards fixing.

As advocates, we build, finance, coach, write, and much more — to reduce poverty. Some are more intentional about their impact than others. The 1934 National Housing Act was an intentionally implemented resource that elevated an entire generation of Americans to the middle class. But, in its execution, it excluded whole groups of people.

So, does our work impact the systemic problems that cause poverty? My answer is yes. Our Masterclass program combined education and equity to walk towards change, but by itself, and like many programs in the field will not systemically impact society like FDRs NHA.

I hope that we, advocates and the people we serve, get to run and even fly within our lifetimes.

I also hope that collectively, our work is an answer, a challenge to these challenges. I charge myself and my colleagues to continue this work. Indeed, sometimes our steps are smaller than we want, and sometimes, we have to crawl and gravel for funding or to be heard in meetings. Sometimes we use euphemisms like systemic or social justice instead of race. But I hope that we will continue to fight together.

If you are an advocate in the community development space, just an observer, I would love to hear your thoughts.


Keep Moving from This Mountain,” Address at Spelman College on 10 April 1960. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. Stanford University. https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/keep-moving-mountain-address-spelman-college-10-april-1960

What are the major federal safety net programs in the U.S.?.A summary of efforts to reduce poverty in the U.S.https://poverty.ucdavis.edu/article/war-poverty-and-todays-safety-net-0

Minimum Wages for Tipped Employees. Department of Labor. January 1, 2022. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/state/minimum-wage/tipped

Affordable housing eligibility is based on median income — and the 2021 numbers are out for DC. HOUSINGNEWS/ANALYSISBy Libby Solomon (Former Managing Editor) July 14, 2021 3https://ggwash.org/view/81935/here-are-dcs-new-affordable-housing-income-limits-for-2021** Recently updated

U.S. Federal Poverty Guidelines Used to Determine Financial Eligibility for Certain Federal Programs. February 1, 2021 https://aspe.hhs.gov/topics/poverty-economic-mobility/poverty-guidelines/prior-hhs-poverty-guidelines-federal-register-references/2021-poverty-guidelines

What are Benefits Cliffs. Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. https://www.atlantafed.org/economic-mobility-and-resilience/advancing-careers-for-low-income-families/what-are-benefits-cliffs

U.S. rail strike averted, but labor deal faces tough union votes. By Trevor HunnicuttDavid Shepardsonand Steve Holland. September 15, 2022. https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-reaches-tentative-agreement-with-rail-workers-strike-2022-09-15/