Most young people today have studied the stories of the great civil rights struggle in this country and the heroic acts of many from all walks of life that eventually brought about change in America. While older generations may recall segregation or the disturbing days of water hoses and police dogs, young kids today for the most part haven’t experienced open violence at the hands of bigots. Even though racial inequality clearly exists, they have been lucky to grow up in an integrated society that grows increasingly diverse by the day. So when news of the Trayvon Martin shooting first broke, it was no surprise that it sent shockwaves among our youth — and continues to do so today.
To add to the troubling climate, over the weekend, three Black adults were shot to death and two were wounded at the hands of White gunmen who have since confessed to the horrific act in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Though not officially ruled racially motivated yet, this latest incident has all the underpinnings of a despicable hate crime. It’s no wonder young people have taken to the streets to march, organize and let their voices be heard. We are at a precarious moment. We must stop ourselves from regressing. We cannot allow our future to be hijacked with hate. We need not a moment, but a true movement immediately.
When people discuss justice and equality, they often forget that progress didn’t simply take place overnight or occur in a vacuum. Countless individuals organized and strategized actual concrete steps on how to bring about change. They saw unfairness, figured out mechanisms to tackle it and organized a massive effort. Today, when we witness these unfortunate reminders of the historical imprint of racism resurfacing, we cannot act as if the issues can simply be swept under a rug. It’s time all of us engage in a long-term conversation on the elephant in the room — race. And as the Trayvon Martin case tragically proves, the topic cannot be discussed without dedicating an equal amount of time towards a serious look at our justice system. In addition to the criminalization and harassment of young Black men (and women) , the system often unfairly favors those not deemed a ‘threat’.
But the difference between mere rhetoric and sustainable results is action. Gravely troubled by these recent events and more, major civil rights leaders, clergy, victims, parents, grandparents and concerned folks from all races, backgrounds and communities are assembling in the nation’s capital this week. From Wed., April 11th through Sat. April 14th, National Action Network (NAN) will be conducting its annual convention where we will discuss these issues and more, while we plan and organize a strategy to combat them. In addition to a slew of panel discussions and plenary sessions, we will be holding a ‘Measuring the Movement Forum’ event at Howard University next Saturday with the first-ever dialogue between the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Amadou Diallo. We will organize ways to energize the country on pressing social issues that really do impact each and every one of us. And we will formulate concrete steps for achieving those goals.
There are some in positions of power that would like nothing more than to make us believe that racism, classism and other inequities don’t exist. But they do. And the only way to combat them, and stop our nation from reverting back to days when the Trayvon Martin and Tulsa shootings were the norm, is to have an honest dialogue and most importantly, take action. The worst thing we can do is come together and walk away doing nothing. There is far too much at risk.
We owe it to the next generation to allow them to live in a better world than we did.
By: Rev. Al Sharpton