Nearly 50 years ago, over 250,000 Americans gathered on the National Mall to demand jobs and freedom. 1963 was a tumultuous year in American history; the assassination of Medgar Evers and Bloody Sunday was still fresh in the minds of many who came to Washington, D.C. to demand justice from our Nation’s leaders. As a young Black man born decades after the Civil Rights Movement, I will never be able to find the words to properly thank or show respect for these leaders whose sacrifices lead to the most comprehensive civil rights protections in American history. Their major accomplishments helped to ensure enfranchisement, better educational and employment opportunities for me and subsequent generations of Americans. I hold many of these leaders in the highest regard and consider many to be the foremothers and forefathers of American democracy. However, I will not be marching to commemorate their 1963 March on Washington this weekend.
A commemoration is a ceremony or celebration in which a person or event is remembered. I have personally commemorated leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in some of the most hallowed and transformative moments of my life. I remembered John Lewis when I first registered to vote in Georgia in 2002 and then I remembered Fannie Lou Hamer when I cast my first vote in the mid-term elections. I remembered Medgar Evers when I enrolled in college at Georgia Southern University to study political science. Each time I exercise my rights as an American citizen I consider the act a celebration of these leaders because I know that I am only able to do so because of their sacrifices. In my work as an activist and organizer, I remember the 1963 March and other historic events organized by Bayard Rustin and I study these leaders each and every day. I will continue to make sure that these leaders are respected and revered as some of the greatest Americans to ever live but I will not be marching with the purpose to remember them this weekend.
Last month, I was a part of the BYP 100 convening of the Black Youth Project which brought together 100 young Black activists from around the country to mobilize Black communities towards equality and justice. We heard the Zimmerman verdict together and shared with each other our collective grief, pain and hope for a better world where Black people are treated fairly and share equally in the prosperity of America. Since that day we have organized and even today we are working to have a substantial presence at the March on Washington this weekend. In many ways BYP 100 is like other groups of young leaders from the Civil Rights Movement but our mobilization isn’t about paying homage to those groups, we are mobilizing to save our lives.
Black communities across this nation are in a state of crisis and have been trapped in cycles of oppression that have existed for hundreds of years in this nation—the 1963 March on Washington is a highpoint in the struggle to break those cycles but it is not the endpoint. The struggle to create a fair, equal and justice America continued and continues today. I am still emotionally reeling from the death of Trayvon Martin and devaluation of Black life in our society. I am outraged at Black unemployment rates hovering above 12% and hundreds of thousands of hard-working Black Americans who live in poverty while working at poverty-wage paying jobs. I am tired of the constant attacks on our rights and policies put forward by radical right-wing legislators that codify inequality and put our lives in danger. I am marching to demand an end to injustices that are having a very real impact on my life today. In a sense, I am marching to save my own life and the lives are millions other Black people who will not be able to attend this march.
I will be marching to empower leaders at every level of government and in the private sector to create policies that push America towards political, economic and social equality. I am marching to show these leaders that they have my full support to speak out against injustice even in times when they will be called “race-baiters”, “dividers” and even “reverse racists” by right-wing zealots. Zora Neale Hurston summed up why I am obligated to march “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it“.
This weekend, I will be marching to make very unceremonious demands on our government and society. I will join with hundreds of thousands of Americans and demand justice although I will certainly remember and celebrate those whose shoulders I will be standing upon while doing so. In this new era of social-media driven politics we certainly can have a healthy debate about the effectiveness of marching but this weekend I will be marching and using my body to make the statement that Black people and our lives matter and the world needs to see us in the most basic way to get this message. I will march because I believe those who died for my rights truly deserve for their dreams of a fair and just America to be fulfilled.