Inspired By Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The New Generation Of Civil Rights Isn’t Asking For Change, They’re Demanding It

Ebonie Riley, National Action Network’s DC Bureau Chief, explains the choice between chaos and community when fighting for a more democratic America.

A year before the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, he released what would be his final book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” In it he discussed the fierce urgency and importance of leaving guidance and wisdom for future generations to absorb and apply to their moment in history.

Today, I recall those lessons standing at another crossroads on the same proverbial street. Seeing White supremacists emboldened for the last four years only to have a diverse coalition react by electing Joe Biden as the next President and the first Black, South Asian and female Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris.

The country is enveloped in a tremendous push and pull that will determine which direction we go in next and whether we honor the successes of the past's civil rights movement. As the Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief of National Action Network (NAN), and as a young leader in the movement for equality and justice, I believe that where we go from here is up to each of us and we’ve got to be strategic in how we move ahead.

RELATED: National Action Network’s Commitment March: 'Get Your Knee Off Our Necks'

Last August, I had the honor of serving as the lead organizer for NAN's Commitment March in the nation's capital, which drew over 200,000 people from across the country. Overseeing the rally's logistics was no easy feat. Prep included creating a 14-page site plan with COVID-19 measures, so I can say firsthand that the coup attempt at the Capitol on January 6th was no accident, and many questions remain about who may have assisted in the insurrection. We should compare this act to other acts of white violence, instead of acts created by Black liberation movements. We cannot unsee the harsh treatment of demonstrators who asked that the police stop killing us and that BIPOC lives be valued. 

For nearly three decades, NAN has stood alongside families impacted by police brutality and advocated reform at both the federal and state levels. With the guidance of NAN President, Rev. Al Sharpton, I have analyzed and developed policy recommendations, met with elected officials and the community to advance our concerns. Now more than ever, we must work to pass federal legislative policies like the George Floyd Justice in Policing ActThe BREATHE Act, the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Photo by Natasha Moustache/Getty Images
Photo by Natasha Moustache/Getty Images

We must invest in new approaches to community safety. We must keep the same energy and hold elected officials accountable in our areas; write and push for more policies and run for office for example. We must continue strategic action if we want to liberate truly liberate ourselves.  We need student loan forgiveness for my generation and younger people, eliminating tech disparities, housing and banking equality, investment in entrepreneurship, intellectual property and more.   

Where do we go from here? 

Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

We must continue to urge our elected leaders to produce actionable results or vote them out. As the youngest and only female Bureau Chief of a civil rights organization, I have a unique position and a sense of purpose. I was born in Chicago, became a teen mom and was surrounded by many people who didn't think I would make it.

I've dealt with the societal barriers that try to hold you back, but here I am, fighting another day through a community lens. Our work is far from over. Remember, Trump may be gone, but his supporters' ideology remains. As we pay homage to Dr. King and spend the day in service to others, we must remember that where we go from here is completely up to us. 

Or as Dr. King said it: "This may well be mankind's last chance to choose between chaos or community." 


Ebonie Riley is a millennial policy strategist and activist serving as DC Bureau Chief of National Action Network's Washington, DC Bureau. In this role, she executes strategic plans, policy initiatives, analyzes legislation, develops policy recommendations, monitors policy developments related to federal and state legislation. She also coordinates NAN's national conventions, legislative conferences and acted as lead organizer for the 2020 Commitment March on Washington. You can follow her on IG @ebonieriley and Twitter @ebonie__riley.

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, you confirm that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers) and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. You understand that you can unsubscribe at any time.