Posted Sept. 20, 2007 – Could the rally in the tiny town of Jena, La., awaken the Black community – and Black youths in particular – to a new round of activism in the same way that young civil rights leaders of the 1960s joined in the fight against segregation?
After all, it was largely African-American youths who participated in the “freedom rides,” lunch counter sit-ins, voter-registration drives and organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Congress of Racial Equality and Black Panther Party.
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In the 1960s, young Black Americans – locked out of the educational opportunities, denied the right to vote and often brutalized by the very institutions purportedly established to protect all Americans – took an active role in changing America. Many of them paid the price with their lives.
We often forget that leaders such as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, John Lewis, Marian Wright Edelman and Andrew Young were themselves in their teens and 20s when they were forcing a very violent Jim Crow into the shadows.
A common criticism among young African Americans is, “Why are Jesse and Rev. Al always grabbing headlines?”
A better question might be, “Where are the new Black leaders, the young people who have the passion, pride and courage to step to the frontlines in the march for justice?” What are we doing as individuals to make our world better?
Tens of thousands of young people, mostly African Americans, are pouring into Jena today. In fact, we will likely outnumber the town folks by quite a few. This event, like the Million Man March, will undoubtedly go down in history as another example of Black unity. But the issue is not only what we take to that racially conflicted community but what we bring back home.
Will we continue to recognize the strength we have in numbers and, more important, will we turn that show of strength into true action? Will we continue to speak out on the injustices we see in our own communities every day? Will we abandon behavior that shames our ancestors and the leaders who sacrificed so much before us?
Jena is about so much more than the racist prosecution of six Black youths. It is the best opportunity in a long time for us to refocus on our purpose and to make sure the next generation will remember our names with pride.
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