WASHINGTON – The face of activism needs to get younger.
That’s what today's civil rights leaders say — that the hip-hop generation needs to be more active in civil rights and activism — and civil rights organizations are trying to get them involved.
“The main difference in our time and the 1960s is that the vast and overwhelming majority of those known as civil rights leaders are those who are in their 50s,60s,70s and 80s in some cases,” said the Rev. Markel Hutchins. “It's tragic because the problems and social ills in the nation today in minority and underserved communities have so much to do with our generation.”
Hutchins and others are hoping to involve more young people beginning with a march to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Aug,28,1963,March on Washington for Jobs,Peace and Freedom.
“The 40th anniversary should not just be a commemoration in terms of looking back,it should be to fulfill the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream,” said Shanta Driver,spokeswoman for By Any Means Necessary,an affirmative action advocacy group. “It should be an opportunity to organize for the future.”
In recognition of the anniversary,BAMN is planning a march from Howard University to the Lincoln Memorial at noon Aug. 23,followed by a conference on organizational strategy Aug. 24.
“It's a great opportunity to say to the nation,there's a new generation of leaders prepared to step in and fill the vacuum of leadership and bring back people in the street organizing and demonstrating and fighting for equalization and equality,” Driver said.
To recruit more young people to the civil rights cause,Hutchins,26,started the National Youth Connection,which he chairs,when he was a sophomore at Morehouse College.
He said it’s the only young adult civil rights organization in the country. Aligned along the same principles as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of the 1960s,the organization serves as a national vehicle for young adults to become involved in civil rights work.
“History declares that any movement of substantive change has been led by youth and young adults,” Hutchins said. “Young people have carried the mantle of leadership throughout the nation and throughout the world. They're the ones who've made a difference.”
And no one knows this better than Rep. John Lewis,D-Ga. As president of SNCC,Lewis helped organize the historic 1963 march on Washington and gave what is remembered as one of the most fiery speeches of the day,surpassed only by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have A Dream” speech. Lewis said today's young people need to mobilize for a common cause like the freedom riders of his generation.
“This generation is too quiet,” he said. “They need to push and pull and make some noise. We responded to a call,and this generation needs to do the same.”
“The young generation shouldn't wait for us to pass the torch,they should just take it and run with it,” Lewis said. “We didn't wait 40 years ago — we just did it. They just have to get out there,do what I call ‘get in the way' and create another movement.”
The National Capital Parks division of the National Park Service said it had received one request,which it expects to grant,to hold a commemorative event on the National Mall.
The March on Washington,which requested the permit,is a collection of about 50 civil and human rights organizations,said Mark Thompson,march co-coordinator.
“We have to ask ourselves what we have accomplished as a community of conscience over the past 40 years,” he said. “What has changed since the great March on Washington in 1963? We gather 40 years later to seek answers.”
The weekend of activities begins with a prayer vigil at 7:30 p.m. Aug 22 at the Lincoln Memorial,followed by an open mic event.
Thompson said organizers hope to attract people who were at the original march as well as those who have only read about the demonstration in books. He said he expects some well-known people to participate but had no confirmations by early August.
“It's about a new generation of activists being involved,” he said. “We hope that the sit-in generation meets the hip-hop generation and passes the torch.”
The event will end Saturday with a teach-in and rally at the Lincoln Memorial. Participants will hear from civil and human rights organizations about how to address issues such as discrimination,affirmative action and militarism.
The March on Washington and BAMN activities are being planned separately but the groups may end up together Saturday.
“We hope people will leave the march with a renewed spirit of agitation and activism to hold the policy makers in this great nation of ours more accountable,” Thompson said.
The government recently began taking steps to recognize the significance of the 1963 March. On July 23,Lewis led Congress in remembering the March on Washington and the civil rights movement,and the National Park Service recently carved an inscription on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech during the 1963 demonstration.
Still,Hutchins said,the “hip-hop generation is the key” to achieving equality because it brings people together.
“The same thing that makes young African Americans move and dance is the same thing that makes young white people move and dance,” he said. “Now we just have to learn to live and dance and learn together as brothers and sisters.”