Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is celebrated every third Monday in January. For many African Americans, it is a day to honor someone that led the fight for the equal rights we have today. It’s also a time where we reflect not only on the progress we’ve seen but also on how much more we have to get done.
The generations who fought for us have communicated the importance of the day, and though the new generation honors the legacy of Dr. King, we don’t always understand why we need to take the time to reflect on all he did.
I’ve never done anything extraordinary for MLK Day until this year. On Jan. 18, I had the opportunity to attend the #MLKNow event in Harlem, New York and it was monumental. For once, I really felt the legacy that Dr. King left behind. There was so much power not only behind his words but in his character as well. He was able to touch everybody around him and to leave a legacy that only continues to shine is amazing to see. The #MLKNow event was set up around connecting MLK and his peers’ message to the relevant issues that are going around today. We heard speeches from leaders such as Malcolm X, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Fred Hampton, and more recited by leaders of our current generation. This bridging of the gap helped generations come together at one event and have everybody be in tune.
There was so much power, not only behind his words but in his character as well. He was able to touch everybody around him and to leave an impact that continues to inspire us years after he passed.
The #MLKNow event was set up around connecting Dr. King and his peers’ message to the relevant issues that are going around today. “Creed” director Ryan Coogler bridged the gap between today’s most sought after entertainers and the unstoppable voices who paved the way for them to be exactly where they are. We heard speeches from leaders such as Malcolm X, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Fred Hampton, and more recited by the leaders of our current generation.
With all the racial tension going on right now, my generation has found ourselves battling in our own modern-day Civil Rights Movement. We’re in the midst of change all around us, and now more than ever, we feel the pressure of being African American. As someone who has never deeply focused on social or political issues, #MLKNow made me want to get active and use my voice for change. I’ve always been aware of what’s going on but never really put much thought into what I could do to get involved. I’ve never really thought about how much the people before us had to work to make sure that we had the future that we have. It’s inspiring to see that those who came before us still believe in us.
It was incredibly motivating to see that entertainers Chris Rock, Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, and J. Cole are so passionate about Civil Rights. Similar to the actors and actresses of the 1960s, they are using their platforms to inspire change by speaking out despite what their agents, managers or advertisers may think. As they performed their speeches, you could see the parallels from then and now. Their words still hold so much relevance that you can’t help but feel connected. We’ve seen progress but there’s still so much work to do. But it doesn’t make you feel discouraged. It doesn’t come with a sense of negativity but with a sense of hope. The aura in the building of #MLKNow was one of unity. You could tell that everybody was feeling empowered and ready to take on more challenges. The event didn’t make me feel wrong for not being as knowledgable about things as others. It was informational and everybody had a humbling aura that was comforting. In times where the younger generation often feels looked down upon by the older generation, #MLKNow was a common ground. We’re the future of this world and it was nice to see that there are people who still have hope in us. MLK left us with power in his words. He knew that he was establishing the foundation to keep us going.
One of the more powerful moments came with Harry Belafonte took the stage. As someone who worked directly with Dr. King, his words came with meaning and a focus. He was able to recount conversations with the American hero and his stories set a fire inside me and the others around. The wisdom in the building was phenomenal. He let us know that MLK Jr. was so focused on building a peaceful revolution that he was willing to unite in a burning house and be a fireman. That type of dedication is enough to make anybody want to continue the work he started. Harry Belafonte made sure that he let us know it was teenagers that powered the movement as well. We get caught up in the older generation but forget that they were once young, too.
As he went down the roster of Civil Rights activists that were the same age as at the time, you couldn’t help but feel something stirring in the air. It’s important to know that no matter the age you can do something to help. We don’t have to wait, the time is now. It’s time to get started and to become a force. When we’re young that is when we are the most powerful. The youth is the future and that should never be forgotten.
Ryan Coogler and United Blackout were able to create a successful event. It was learning experience and gave me a great feeling celebrating Martin Luther King JR. It’s important that we don’t look at the day as just another day off when it actually as a meaning. Bringing together panelists such as Dante Berry, Leon Ford Jr., Linda Sarsour, Rahiel Tesfamariam, and Gina Belafonte put us directly in front of young leaders. We don’t see them publicized often so it’s easy to feel like they’re not around. But they’re working everyday to help us and hearing them speak left me wanting to more and continuing to do research. I think it’s important that we create these avenues of connection. We’re powerful as a unit and places where generations can come together in unity is a beautiful thing to witness.