As for racism, there have been positive strides in the right direction, but children are still not judged by the content of their character. Instead they are profiled for the color of their skin. You need look no further than Trayvon Martin and the disheartening verdict in the Zimmerman trial to know that racism is still the thorn in America’s side.
TR: And what of militarism and violence?
MLK III: Well, this is difficult to say, because though my father would be extremely proud of President Obama, on both principled and symbolic grounds, I believe he would also challenge the president on things like the drones program, which has unleashed seemingly unfettered violence on communities in Africa and the Middle East. I am grateful to have a president, unlike George W. Bush, who is not quick to wage war. President Obama is thoughtful, methodical, patient and wise. But the military-industrial complex that exists around him is dangerous and unyielding of power. This is an issue that belongs in the public debate.
TR: What initiatives are you currently working on or engaged in to inspire the next generation of civil rights leaders? Are you encouraged by young voices and those who were vocal at the March on Washington anniversary, many of whom were not yet even born or conceived in 1963? And what is your message to them?
MLK III: My organization, Realizing the Dream, is partnering with the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network to address the most pressing issue facing us: voting suppression. Because this is not about voter-ID laws; this is about voter-suppression laws. To that end, we are going on the road to states like Texas and North Carolina to challenge new voter-suppression efforts that sprung up in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
This is the most important civil rights issue of our day — just as it was 50 years ago. Because without the right to vote, we wouldn’t have Barack Obama. Without the right to vote, we wouldn’t be able to challenge “Stand your ground” laws. Without the right to vote, we’d have no ability to effectively address misguided policies like stop and frisk.
And as for the next generation, I am most inspired by the young boy Asean Johnson, who spoke on Saturday. This is a boy who is 9 years old, who is already engaged in and articulate on matters of social justice. I realize that civil rights giants like the Rev. Joseph Lowery and Al Sharpton spoke on behalf of people of my generation, and Ben Jealous of the NAACP speaks for the generation after us, but my own daughter and young people like Asean Johnson speak for the generation that is to come. That makes me proud. And it shows me that the dream is awakening. And my message is: Open your eyes. Don’t sleep.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington, Arise America and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.