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I’ve spent my life as a civil rights activist and anti-violence advocate, I hear from folks all over the country about how fed-up they are—how much they want change—but they don’t know where to start. It’s not enough just to be informed, we’ve got to work tirelessly to do better. With the “The Lookout,” I’ll collect the most important stories and action items that you need to see and do each week, keeping you involved so you can create positive change for yourself and your community.

I want to hear from you; what’s going on in your community? What stories or events should folks know about? Leave a comment or email me. 

1. Pick Up the Phone: Tell Your Senator to get it Right This Time

Last week the Senate failed to pass a bill extending unemployment insurance for millions of Americans without work—That’s 1.3 million people without the emergency aid they need to pick themselves up and carry on. The White House reports that it could mean the loss of 240,000 jobs in the future, but this failure is already damaging communities across the country and without money, without work—without hope—we’re sure to see a rise in crime. There’s a lot of talk that unemployment assistance is a hand out, that it makes people lazy—what’s lazy are our representatives in Congress and the Senate who refuse to put aside partisan politics and create a bill that’s not just a temporary band aid, but a machine for creating lasting jobs and benefits for all Americans. We elected these people, they work for us, now let’s tell them how to do it. Call up your senators, Democrat or Republican, and tell them to bring this bill back to the floor.

2. Make it Count: Martin Luther King Jr. Day is as Much an Opportunity For Action as it is For Reflection

The most powerful way to celebrate Dr. King’s memory is to further his legacy. Forty-seven years ago Dr. King gave this timeless advice to students in Cleveland, Ohio: Know that our strongest tool in the enduring struggle for equality is “action programs” driven forward by you, by young people who know their worth and won’t stop moving and fighting until their community and their country recognizes that worth. With high youth unemployment, the soaring price of higher education, and sustained violence in and towards the black community, we gotta keep moving because the fight is far from over. Find a way to recommit yourself to the dream; make it a day “on” and not a day off.

3. Take The Pledge for Peace and Stop Violence Today

Organized by Erica Ford, founder of New York City based nonprofit Life Camp, Inc., Peace Week emphasizes peace as a lifestyle, combatting the public health crisis of gang, gun, and youth violence, which the Children’s Defense Fund reported as the #1 killer of young black men. From January 15th to the 22nd, Life Camp will hold events each day to educate people on the effects of violence and the importance of helping each other heal emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Three high profile shootings in this month alone—two at schools in New Mexico and Philadelphia, and one at movie theater in Florida—make it clear that we need to prioritize peace across the United States and eradicate violence as a public health crisis now. Coming out of King weekend, celebrating and continuing his legacy of peace, we cannot forget that the fight to reduce violence endures. Take the pledge and find out what you can do to help reduce violence in your community:

4. Time to Walk the Walk: You Asked for Healthcare, Now Go Get It

We need this most of anyone; more than 6.8 million uninsured African Americans may be eligible for coverage through the Affordable Care Act and more than 500 thousand young black men and women have already signed up. Still, it’s not enough until we all get covered and it’s not nearly enough to support the program. Equal and affordable healthcare was a fantasy for millions of young people of color until the ACA came to pass in 2010. You asked for this, you re-elected our President for this, and yet young people ages 18-35 years old are signing up for ACA coverage less than anyone else; just 24% of all enrollees are young adults according to the report by the Department of Health and Human Services. It’s time to do our part. Signing up for coverage now is essential to your personal health, but it also insures the health of this bill against those in Congress who fought so hard to suppress it. We got this, so lets take it. Take some time this weekend take some time and visit to see which plans work for you. Sign up by the 15th of February to get covered in the next month.

5. Read the Fine Print: Obama’s Revision of the NSA’s Surveillance

You probably heard last week that President Obama announced his plans to limit the NSA’s controversial telephone eavesdropping at the suggestion of an independent panel—but what does that really mean? The president plans to restrict how the information is used, but not how it is collected in the first place. It’s unclear if and how these changes will balance the need for security with our right to privacy. Whether you think Edward Snowden was a villain or a whistleblower, this 30 year-old computer analyst turned our national and international defense policies inside out, starting an unprecedented public debate about our country’s use of surveillance on its own citizens and allies. We’re all going to have to pay close attention to see what happens next, but you can’t just read the headlines and think you know what you’re talking about; you’ve got to be informed, these policies affect you and everyone you know.

Called “a leader of tomorrow” by Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, Valerie B. Jarrett, Tamika D. Mallory is a nationally recognized leader and civil rights activist. Tamika is the Founder/President of Mallory Consulting, LLC and the former Executive Director of the National Action Network (NAN), one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations. She is featured regularly as a leading voice on key social justice issues and is currently making headlines around the country for her tireless activism and strong stance on women’s issues, anti-violence, young adult advocacy, and decency.