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Now What? A Call To Action Inspired by the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington



There are 101 reasons why I love living in Washington, D.C. and participating in monumental and historically significant moments like the 50th Anniversary of the March on

Washington is one of them.

Attending as a correspondent for B. Couleur Magazine, I went with the mission to capture the essence of the experience for the people who were not able to attend. I met people like Samuel Kyles, a friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was present at the hotel the day the Civil Rights leader was assassinated, and 3-year old Chase Reaves who was there with his parents and the Jack and Jill organization. I met, listened to, and stood beside our nation’s leaders, activists, political figures, and generations of supporters of the Civil Rights Movements. But I didn’t feel like I had a story.

The anniversary ceremonies and speeches were incredibly inspiring and moving, but now what? What do we do next?

Fifty years ago Martin Luther King Jr. offered a speech that is titled after the least important part of his message. The dream he spoke of was both practical (“little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers”) and fantastical (“one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low”), but the dream was not the reason Dr. King offered that speech at that particular time. The mission of his message was to address the current conditions of the state of American race relations and to give the members of the movement their marching orders. As any gifted leader knows, if you are going to lead an army you have to paint a vivid picture of the horrors the soldiers will face while simultaneously giving them so much hope the suffering they will face pale in comparison to the spoils of victory.

Long story short: I Have a Dream was a rally cry for a generation of people who lived in pretty sucky times.

Marchers dispersed from the rally in 1963 knowing what they had to do. They had to make this public issue a personal one they were all willing to fight for unto death. Dignity was at stake. Not his dignity or her dignity. Your dignity. What are you going to do about it? This was Dr. King’s charge and the thousands in attendance accepted the call.

On this basis, King’s mission was accomplished.

What about the dream? We are clearly light years away from experiencing the true freedom and equality King spoke of. It is now 150 years later and, while to a lesser degree, “the negro is still badly
crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”

We are still fighting for freedom. The difference is, the chains are now in our minds. We are carrying mental limitations and emotional scars that now prove to be as great of an oppressor as any individual or institution could ever be.

In 50 years, what will our grandchildren remember us for? What is our legacy? We were inspired by the anniversary ceremonies, but now what?

Here’s the what. If we are going to finish the work that Dr. King started our generation needs its own set of marching orders. Here are a few things I think we - you and I - can do today to make a significant difference in the lives others live tomorrow.

1. Treat mental illness – Black Americans are historically known for eschewing professional mental healthcare in favor of the spiritual counsel of pastors and clergymen. There is a very long list of reasons why which include the stigma associated with mental illness and cultural mistrust. We simply do not trust healthcare providers, and it is this distrust that prevents us from proactively seeking mental health services when they are needed. Anxiety, depression, panic disorders and others barriers to mental wellness are largely ignored or accepted as normal conditions we must learn to live with. Untreated depression, for example, can cripple an otherwise healthy man preventing him from experiencing successful relationships, recognizing professional opportunities, and making decisions in favor of his long term financial stability over immediate gratification [Read more about Cultural Mistrust]

2. Find your why – Recently I watched a lecture by Jon Kabat-Zinn on stress and suffering. For people who are experiencing, or have experienced, extreme hardship he said something to the effect of, in ten years when you look back at this experience, what do you want to say you suffered for? Without a cause or reason to suffer any hardship, the experience is excruciating and intolerable. You have to find your reason why, the motivation that will carry you through the unpleasant seasons and give purpose to your life beyond acquiring money and other temporary comforts.

3. Refuse to fund foolishness – Instead of lamenting about Miley Cyrus and the racist implications of her misappropriation Black culture, or going on about the ratchetness that is Love and Hip Hop, stop funding the agencies that offer a stage to such foolishness. Every eyeball, chat, tweet, message, post, and trending thread equates to brand equity. Where there is equity, there is investment. If you don’t want to see it, stop funding it. 

4. Create a family – Once upon a time people met and married because it just made sense. No fairy tales of unicorn tears raining down on the blessed couple as they kissed on a beach in the moonlit summer night after a 3 month courtship. If he had a means to make money and wasn’t a jerk and if she wasn’t terrible to look at and could make pot roast, well that was a marriage worth investing in. They got married, had kids, and created a home where their family could thrive. Today we are waiting for God himself to get off of his Heavenly throne, come down and meet us at Starbucks, and personally introduce us - complete with an orchestra of trumpet playing angels - to the love our of life. Only then will we agree to partner with someone. Our community is in desperate need of healthy strong nuclear families that produce stable, resilient, and successful children. I’m not suggesting you give up on the idea of true love but don’t be so high minded about the concept that it loses earthy relevance.

5. Take up a cause – Someone with needs greater than your own is depending on your time, talent, energy and voice in order to improve their circumstances. Someone, maybe a group, needs exactly what you have to offer. Someone is waiting for you to do something.

6. Insist on financial literacy for yourself and your children – Long term wealth planning and management is only possible if we know how to manage what we have today. Every time I see a young rapper posting pictures of his stacks on stacks on stacks of cash on Instagram whist wearing jewelry that costs more than my college tuition one gray hair sprouts on my head. Wealth means security not just for yourself but for your children and your children’s children. Spending your bonus check on something that will only last until your next check will not secure anyone’s future except the person you’re giving your money to.

7. Consider STEM – Our nation’s capacity for innovation and global competitiveness is heavily dependent on the participation of women and minorities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers. The Department of Commerce's Economic and Statistics administration published a report revealing that while women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM positions. The gender gap in STEM fields is linked to a lack of female role models and gender stereotyping. This issue is so big the President appointed a council just to address this issue and support the programs that expose non-traditional STEM learners to professional and financial opportunities available in those careers. It’s serious business, ya’ll.

There is so much work that has to be done but these are a few manageable next steps we all can begin to incorporate regardless of your current socio-economic circumstances.

If we don’t do something, the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington was nothing more than a nice acknowledgement of the work others did. We are still engaged in a struggle and it’s our turn to move.


Exclusive picture credit to Adrian Walsh Photography

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