Young Blacks in MLK's Shadow

Young African Americans haven't squandered King's legacy; their fight is just different.

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What has been missing is a sustained national movement toward social justice. We can't lay claim to a cause with the same size and scope of the civil rights movement. But we're also fighting a very different battle.

My generation recognizes that an important aspect of the current march toward justice is controlling the narrative, and we have found a way to do this through new media. Blogging and social media have allowed us to wrest our story from mainstream news sources that often neglect or mishandle their coverage of black people (see CNN's Black in America series). The Web has offered an unprecedented opportunity for anyone to share his or her story and to reflect on the breadth and diversity of black opinion and experiences.

In addition, social media and black-centric news websites have served the community in much the same way that black-owned and -operated newspapers, black radio stations and the black church operated during the civil rights movement: as places to disseminate information to large numbers of people and to organize for action. We witnessed this during the earthquakes that struck Haiti last year and more recently during the controversy surrounding the offensive Nivea ad and Vogue Italia's "slave earrings." These are new tools for a new fight.

Most recently, young people used Twitter, Facebook and online petitions to help galvanize support to halt the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia last month. Though it was an unsuccessful campaign, the effort spoke to the power of social media and the desire of young people to act on important issues.

Black Millennials are also increasingly aware of the interconnectedness of various social-justice movements. We have been exposed to ideas that black folks had previously shunned or at least had considered very low priority. Young black people have gotten involved in feminism, LGBT rights, environmentalism, health and other areas of activism, bringing diversity of experience to these movements.

While the older generations may not understand all of this, it isn't exactly their place. They are in a position to pass down the wisdom from their experiences while moving out of the way in order to allow the next generation the opportunity to lead with fresh ideas. Millennials will have to figure out how to build a movement, because the work is far from over, but we also shouldn't beat ourselves up as if we've done nothing. This is our moment to figure out what's important to us and how we can make a difference.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a writer, social commentator and mental-health advocate. Follow him on Twitter.

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