Director Surratt’s Reflections on Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream of a Person-Oriented Economy

Mayor Ed Murray’s Office of Economic Development Director, Brian Surratt shared his reflections on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a “person-oriented” economy.

When Mayor Ed Murray appointed me as director of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, it was a powerful moment for me and my family.  I know the unique challenges many African-American men experience as we navigate, struggle and attempt to thrive in our country.  From an early age, my father drilled into me and my brother that we must work harder, be smarter, and dream bigger to overcome the institutional racism that remains our nation’s original sin.  Few people have the honor and opportunity to help shape the economic future of a city as dynamic as Seattle, and I feel a tremendous responsibility to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the countless civil and human rights champions who paved the way for me so that I could serve as public servant.  This is a burden I proudly accept.

And yet, even as I work hard to support Mayor Ed Murray’s vision for a prosperous, innovative economy, I share his deep concern for those left behind. Despite the many successes African Americans have achieved in Seattle, the past still haunts us and many current policy failures continue to hold us back.  The impacts are real: graduation rates are lower for people of color; people of color are more likely to die by gun violence; discrimination is rampant in employment and housing; and backbreaking poverty and its effects, especially on children, dehumanizes us all.

In 1967 Dr. King said, “We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society.” When I think about an economy that puts people first, I think about one that is intentional about resolving the disparities people of color face.  When we resolve the issues facing the most disadvantaged, we will lift everyone up.

A person-oriented economy is one that rewards innovation that makes our children smarter, our planet healthier, and our communities more livable. In a person-oriented economy, a worker can earn a wage that affords them a good life, a home, healthy food and college educations for her children.  When we shift towards this philosophy, our economy—our people—will be stronger.

Putting people first will help heal the wounds of the past, address our most pressing challenges, and give us a future where anyone who wants to can design a life they are proud of.  Mayor Ed Murray and I are committed to this vision and we are looking forward to partnering with the business community, educators, and all those who want to shape an economy that builds a more prosperous future for all Seattleites.