On Monday, Americans will celebrate the 92nd anniversary of the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a visionary who was murdered because he demanded justice for all people.

His message often gets boiled down to one quote from his most famous speech, delivered during the 1963 March on Washington: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

This appealing idea of a colorblind society is where a lot of white Americans stop in their understanding of King and his call for unity, as if the answer to oppression were simply a change of heart. But economic justice was another essential part of King’s vision of the good society that challenged the powerful of his day and challenges us still.

More than a half-century after the civil rights movement ended legal segregation, some of the conditions that King and others described are little changed. There are still racial divides in income and wealth that proscribe a person’s place in society today as strictly as Jim Crow laws did in the last century.

Thanks to the work of the newly created Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Tribal People, we know that’s true in Maine as well.

• White Mainers are three times more likely to own their home than Black Mainers.

• Black, Indigenous and Tribal people face unemployment and poverty at twice the rate of white Mainers.

• Black Mainers are 20 times more likely than white Mainers to experience COVID-19.

• Black Mainers are incarcerated at six times the rate of the white population.

These disparities are no coincidence. Centuries of discrimination and exclusion have left their mark on our courts, schools, banks, media and other institutions, and they won’t just fade away over time or because we’d like them to.

The commission found that building awareness about this history is important, but it’s not enough. It recommended passage of a number of bills that would spend money to address racial inequities, which were never acted on because of the COVID-shortened legislative session.

And the commission advised lawmakers not to try to be colorblind. “Policies that are ‘race-neutral’ will ultimately maintain existing disparities,” the report says. “Disparate impacts require disparate solutions.”

If that sounds at odds with King’s vision, that is the fault of the way his story has been told.

Economic justice was always a core part of his message and the message of the civil rights movement. The “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered at The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and the marchers’ demands included a $2-per-hour minimum wage, which, adjusted for inflation, would be more than the $15 that advocates are now seeking.

In a less-quoted line from his famous speech, King noted that 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, “the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” He said the marchers came to Washington to “cash a check … that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

Because of COVID, no one will be gathering for Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations where speakers remind them of the unfinished work King left behind. The events of the last year, from the COVID pandemic to the national protests against police brutality, should be enough to bring home how deeply rooted racism is in our society and how much will have to change to achieve true justice.

King left behind a program of what to do, and the inspiration to carry it through. The rest is up to us.

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