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“I have a dream that we will all be judged by the content of our character and not the colour of our skin.”
An excerpt from the famous I have a dream speech by the founding father of the modern-day black civil rights movement, Martin Luther King. A statement that not only permeated through the hearts of everyone that stood at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th 1963. It has now become an ethical standard through which we can benchmark values and trends in our world today. Looking at how far we have come as black people, one question worth asking is: Are we living the dream or are we yet to wake from the horrors of our forefathers?
Black emancipation is a never-ending journey. In the words of popular Black-American activist and writer, Langston Hughes;
"Hold fast to the dream for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly."
To remain in this consciousness, we need to constantly remind ourselves of the goal no matter how grey our area seems to appear. For us as black people, our goals should lie within this benchmark: Content of character.
A New Decade Of Emancipation
This decade has further instilled into our subconscious the need to fan the flame of civil rights across every societal quarter. Key movements such as Black Lives Matter and numerous other niche movements have gained the ascendancy it needs and the support it requires. Achieving the goal of emancipation requires the collaborative efforts of all people and all generations, from the likes of Malcolm X, Ella Baker, Martin Luther King Jnr and you inclusive. Yes, you reading this article. This is because while these names are from our past generations, we need to examine who today’s voices are and how they reflect the values of these activists.
While the past is characterized by public speeches, activism today is characterized by social media and art. Beyond the fact that most activists are people of past generations, the truth remains that several other names come to mind when looking at iconic figures in today’s civil rights movement (not just as a result of the death of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin and Breonna Taylor).
First on the list are the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement: Ayọ (fka Opal) Tometi, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Cullors. Upon the incessant killing of black people in recent times, these activists organized rallies in and around the United States where this issue is rampant. They pulled crowds across the world and made structural moves to demand justice for the killings done by white supremacists. The group has grown to become the global voice for the black civil rights movement with the #blacklivesmatter hashtag which also lead to the renaming of the plaza just around the White House to The Black Lives Matter Plaza.
Before the advent of this movement, these women have long been involved in civil rights. Opal Tometi was once involved in reuniting families after the Haitian Earthquake. Alicia Garza brought equity for domestic partnerships across the United States as well as soliciting for the inclusion of the queers. Lastly, Patrisse Cullors has always been a prison abolitionist. Collectively these three women have established a political intervention to prevent the deadly oppression of black people.
Another set of iconic figures worth mentioning is James Bucker and Van Jones, founders of the online activism platform Color of Change. They have been able to build their online resource to the toll of 7 million active users who share, inquire, and discuss topics surrounding racial justice. They birthed this concept after the 2005 Hurricane Katrina with the aim to impact politics, corporate practice, media, and policy at all levels. Today they seem to be living their goals as they have successfully influenced various movements through their Art. For instance, they were able to get companies such as PayPal and American Express to cut off payments to white supremacist groups.
On this list is artist Caroline Chi Chi Chinakwe, whose art series on colourism amongst black people is bringing physical and mental emancipation to black women who either suffer from or benefit from colourism as a social ill. She is using her platform and creativity to bring awareness to the subject and the effects it still has on black women. These series are found at https://chinakwe.com/.
It's important to note that racism manifests itself in different subtle ways and as a result, these various approaches to tackling it are ingenious, unconventional, and deliberate methods guaranteed to work. Activism and the civil rights movement have gone beyond those rousing speeches in public places and the use of non-violent resistance. It has grown to embody solution-based concepts like art, photography, and media. In truth, several of these battles have been won over the years as we have had more black and female representation than in previous years (adding Barrack Obama as President of the United States and Kamala Harris as the first Black and female Vice president of the United States as one of those milestones).
However, a deeper look into the social scheme of things tells us that there is still a lot to be done to tackle the challenges that remain prevalent.To achieve this, we need a more tactical approach that requires our grit, discipline, and passion.
By extension, this requires input from everyone because we are all leaders in our rights and merits. Start shining the light from where you are with what you have. Are you an artist, photographer, writer, spoken word artist or entertainer? This is the call to speak your truth. Learn from Caroline and other artists who are shining the light on their platforms and through their art. Martin Luther might be dead, but he shines through you and I.
I will end with these words from Franklin Thomas;
“One day, our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings.” Franklin Thomas.
To read more about Martin Luther King Day visit https://nationaltoday.com/martin-luther-king-jr-day/
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