I’m thirty-one years-old and have been marching since age 10 with my parents, Reverend Al Sharpton, and community members from across the country. My parents were founding members of the National Action Network and even as a teenager, I, and the other youth members of NAN, one of whom was musical sensation Alicia Keyes, had a better sense then some of my peers today about why it’s important to march.
Let’s start with this premise: We must march for jobs and justice because we are in catastrophic times. My peers are jobless. Our elders and the working class and poor are under attack in extraordinary and systematic ways. And we are living in one of the most unpredictable and capricious times in our nation’s history.
Many of my peers seem to only know of segregation through stories of relatives or by reading it in the history books and appear disengaged from the process. When you have an African American president, elected officials from all backgrounds, people of color in various businesses, a society where open discrimination is illegal and the reality of a diverse mix of entertainers in the limelight, a lot of them have difficulties seeing beyond the surface. But while there are clear advances we have made, the remnants of institutional barriers are as thick as ever.
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was delivering his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech, his fundamental call to action was for everyone — Black, white, brown, yellow, purple — to unite in an effort to secure social and political equality across the board. It was his work for civil rights and labor rights that made him the historic figure he has become. It was near the grounds of his monument that will be unveiled this weekend that he was planning a tent city for poor people when he was killed. Decades later, that core vision is sadly unrealized. When students of color and the poor still receive inadequate education, we have not realized the dream. When there’s a staggering 50 percent unemployment rate among young Black men in many cities across the nation, we have not realized the dream. When gun violence is rampant and more of our children are dying unnecessarily each and every day, we have not realized the dream. When the imprisonment rate for minorities is disproportionate to our percentage in society, we have not realized the dream. And when people continually attempt to dismantle unions and attack American workers, we have not realized the dream.
This weekend in Washington, D.C., the National Action Network, under the leadership of Rev. Al Sharpton, will once again convene our annual MLK march for justice. This year’s theme is titled: “From the Emancipator (Abraham Lincoln) to the Liberator (MLK Jr.): The Collective Journey of Civil Rights to be Reaffirmed.” As we welcome the support of esteemed individuals like Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, and Lee Saunders, Secretary Treasury of AFSCME, we call on everyone concerned about the plight of this nation’s disparity to join us. We will conduct a rally at noon on Saturday and then march — yes march — along Independence Ave.
In the spirit of our ancestors, in the spirit of Dr. King, and in the spirit of all those that died for freedom’s cause, we will march. We will march for some of my peers who are disengaged and we will continue marching until every man, woman and child truly has an equal shot at this American dream — for that is, after all, the dream each and every one of us should have.