Young Blacks in MLK’s Shadow

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

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This is our history, and certainly we should embrace it. However, too often this history is used to guilt us into appreciating freedoms that we may otherwise take for granted or to chastise us for not working hard enough to continue the fight. The message that we — as the sons, daughters and grandchildren of the movement — have received is contradictory to activist desires.

We were told to walk through the doors that our elders worked so hard to open. What we have done is try to fulfill the dream to the best of our abilities as it has been taught to us. We are steadily incurring more and more debt in the form of student loans to pursue higher education because the message we have received throughout our lives is that education is the key to success.

It’s what MLK died for, according to every elder black person I have ever come in contact with. That’s not the most exact interpretation of what King lived and died for, to be sure, but it’s what we were raised on. The activism gene has been suppressed.

And yet we are not a completely apathetic bunch. There have been instances of great organizing and resistance among young people, as evidenced by the large number of college students who worked to protest the Jena 6 case in Louisiana years ago and the murder of Oscar Grant by an Oakland, Calif., police officer.

I know young activists involved in the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the organization that puts together the Black August celebration in order to raise money and awareness for political prisoners, as well as a few who have embarked on their own endeavors by heading activist organizations to provide assistance to single mothers and address HIV/AIDS. We are showing up and doing the work.

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