In celebration of Black History Month, we at the New York Urban League brought together four next-generation leaders to talk about the state of the civil rights movement in the 21st century.
What unfolded was a provocative conversation that touched on many themes such as class, equity, apathy and honoring our elders. In two hours, we developed few solutions, but it was evident that, contrary to negative stereotypes, 20- and 30-year-olds genuinely care about their communities.
The Civil Rights Struggle is More Complex
Each of our panelists, which included Damon Hewitt of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Tamika Mallory of the National Action Network, Basil Smikle of Basil Smikle and Associates and Sheena Wright of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, agreed that the civil rights movement has changed and evolved over time.
Rev. Jesse Jackson says that it has turned into a “silver” rights movement where economic parity is the greatest issue facing our community. U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been quoted as saying that education is the greatest civil rights issue of our time.
There was no disagreement here at all.
The quality of children’s educations can be directly tied to their zip codes, as can the number of those who are incarcerated. Education has been an equalizer for some but not all African-Americans. Those who’ve had access to strong education know that well. Because the experiences of black students differ more profoundly than they did even a few decades ago, there are more opinions and perspectives on the problems and how to fix them now than ever before.