Youth Urged to March Beyond Washington
Thousands have converged on Washington, DC, over the past week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. One group turned its focus toward the future with a program aiming to give young African-Americans the leadership skills to continue the fight for equality.
Nearly every politician, celebrity, and activist who stood at the podium on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday for the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington spoke of how, while great progress has been made toward realizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of racial equality, it has yet to be fulfilled. Speakers at a second commemoration Wednesday on the actual anniversary of the march, including President Obama, are expected to deliver a similar message.
The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation took the opportunity this week to help ensure the success of the ongoing battle by focusing on those who will be responsible for keeping the dream alive: young people. NCBCP partnered with a host of organizations to put on the Black Youth Vote! Civic Leadership and Organizing Conference, the only official youth-oriented program to be held as part of the March on Washington festivities.
“Of course you have the seasoned people who are there, and they are always rightfully going to have their position,” Jessica Brown, national coordinator for the Black Youth Vote! (BYV) coalition, recently told the Associated Press. “But you’re starting to see the pickup of the youth saying, ‘This is our time, this is our moment, this is the opportunity we have to show the world and the nation, that we’re here and we’re ready to work and organize to get things done.’”
The conference, hosted by the National Education Association (NEA), featured skill-building sessions on integrating voter data, using social media, and organizing and strategic planning around issues affecting young adults.
“It was really a great process because we were able to engage with young people from across the country and really focus on those issues that were their priorities,” said Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of NCBCP. “They were able to take some time out to actually focus on the legacy of what was going on 50 years ago and then see what they wanted the future to look like.”
In a special men-only session hosted by political activist Jeff Johnson titled “I Am Trayvon,” black men talked to black youth about issues that disproportionately affect them and what they can do on the local level to bring about change.
“We’re looking at the issue that went on in Florida, we’re looking at what’s going on with the Voting Rights Act,” Brown said. “Youth are really upset, and they’re deciding maybe this is a good point to collectively come together, continuously build on our network, and take it back to our community to continue working.”
Other participating groups included the NEA, NAACP Youth and College Division, the Open Society Foundation, the National Urban League YP, and the League of Young Voters, among several others.
“The march on Washington this year is not just a commemoration but a continuation of the efforts started 50 years ago,” Dennis Van Roekel, NEA’s president, said in a statement. “It’s about making sure we pass the torch to the next generation of social justice and civil rights activists. … Now more than ever we need to lay the groundwork for the next 50 years so that we can turn the dream into reality.”
(American Jewish Congress archives)