The Power That Youth Hold: A Toolkit and the March on Washington
I am encouraged by the vigor and fresh activism of my generation (Read: BYP100 and Dream Defenders). It causes me to see a light at the end of what has been a very dark tunnel. However, if there is in fact a light at the end of the tunnel, are we prepared to run? Do we have the energy? Pastors, politicians, leaders, community members, and activists need to have a long talk with each other, and we need to figure out how we will fight for the “28 percent of African-Americans, and 37 percent of black children, who are poor (compared with 10 percent of whites and 13 percent of white children); We need to speak about the 13 percent of blacks who are unemployed (compared with 7 percent of whites); we need to discuss the more than 900,000 black men who are in prison; We need to stand up and address how and why blacks experienced a sharper drop in income since 2007 than any other racial group; and how black household wealth, which had been disproportionately concentrated in housing, has hit its lowest level in decades; and also how blacks accounted, in 2009, for 44 percent of new H.I.V. infections.” We need to speak about how this country has unraveled the remnants of affirmative action, ignored gun control, arrested those who used the occupy movement as a final cry for an ideology that can actually end poverty, and sustained public school segregation more than 50 years after the supreme court decided on Brown Vs. B.O.E. We must bring these issues into public discourse. But more importantly, we need to figure out who is willing to embrace the scorn and ridicule of being at the forefront of a movement. We need to start, join, and build a movement. If not now, then when?
On February 1st, 1960 four young black men got together and decided to organize. The manifestation of their mobilization was seen by the public, as these four men decided to hold a sit-in at a lunch counter in North Carolina. Fifty-One years, three months, and eleven days later, I am reminded of the power behind organizing black students on a college campus.
Professor Michael Dawson argues, “A construct of linked fate is needed to measure the degree to which African Americans believe that their own self-interests are linked to the interests of the race.” This concept that black people (and in my lens more specifically black youth) are connected simply by their race is one easily associated with the civil rights movement or the Jim Crow Era. It becomes a more difficult argument to make when placing the idea of “linked-fate” into a 21st century context– in a time where post-racial rumors fill the media and a Black president becomes evidence (for some) that we have reached a racial promise land.
A few weeks before the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I am reminded of the iterative need for organizing black youth that share a common experience. Ignoring linked-fate is ignoring the comments made by friends that ask black students on campus to “dress in a hoody and walk with them to the store, so they wont get mugged.” Ignoring linked-fate is, me, hiding the fact that I got pulled over by my own campus police while walking down the street that I live on. Ignoring linked fate is ignoring the power of a shared experience that did not end when Greensboro Four helped to integrate lunch counters in the south.
The power behind shared experiences being transformed into direct action continues as BYP100 just this past week released a Trayvon Martin toolkit. This toolkit is a direct manifestation of youth taking up the arms of knowledge, reclaiming our own value, and unapologetically declaring the power that we will undoubtedly plan to use. If you have not seen the toolkit definitely, check it out here.
I will end with Martin Luther King Junior’s words about what the March on Washington was really about:
“We will lead waves of the nation’s poor and disinherited to Washington, D.C. next spring to demand redress of their grievances by the United States government and to secure at least jobs or income for all. We will go there, we will demand to be heard and we will stay until America responds. If this means forcible repression of our movement, we will confront it, for we have done this before. If this means scorn or ridicule, we embrace it, for that is what America’s poor now receive. If it means jail, we accept it willingly, for the millions of poor already are imprisoned by exploitation and discrimination. We will be petitioning our government for specific reforms and we intend to build militant, nonviolent actions until that government moves against poverty.” (MLK Jr, 1967)