Voters in Birmingham, Ala., on Nov. 4, 2008
Getty Images/Mario Tama

In the critically acclaimed book Why We Can’t Wait, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper.”

In the awe-inspiring treatise, ranked No. 78 on Modern Library’s 100 Best Nonfiction works, King writes: “Just as lightning makes no sound until it strikes, the Negro Revolution generated quietly. But when it struck, the revealing flash of its power and the impact of its sincerity and fervor displayed a force of frightening intensity.”

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Through these words, we are reminded of the capacity within each of us to make a significant difference.  

Yet, as many join today’s civil rights movement, our collective voices have belted out only a whisper. Although voices are added daily—from the keyboards of computers, sound waves of the air, and via social media and other platforms—we have yet to make an impactful statement that signifies where our real power lies.

The battle cry when King explains why we can’t wait comes in a propelling conclusion. He adamantly articulates that as inherent citizens of the United States, we cannot move “toward” freedom. Instead, we must “assert” freedom. He implies that no man, woman or child can exist being half a slave and thus half free. To stabilize the devastating impact of the disadvantaged, King argues for a Bill of Rights and reparations for unpaid wages. The focus on justice was not intended for the South only. It was initiated to purposefully echo the need for change around the world. So I say likewise in this day, we can’t wait! 

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Over the past several years, many have marched, protested, rallied, petitioned and prayed that justice would prevail for the named and unnamed brothers and sisters who have died unjustifiably. Among them are Michael Brown, Renisha McBride, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Eric Garner and the not-soon-forgotten Trayvon Martin.

Despite family heartbreak and community outcry, another unarmed black man, 50-year-old Walter Scott, was shot and killed by a South Carolina police officer. The common thread in these stories is all too familiar. You see, it doesn’t matter if Scott was armed or unarmed, in compliance or resisting arrest. The fact is that the color of his skin subjected him to mistreatment and, ultimately, an untimely death.

The writing is on the wall: We can no longer wait. It’s high time that black Americans led the way on implementing plans that will change how our children are educated, result in affordable health insurance and eradicate the proliferation of drugs in our communities. There is simply no more time to talk about it. In this moment, we must also take a stand to ensure that those who are sworn to protect and serve and yet mercilessly kill unarmed African Americans face justice.

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Those whom we might ordinarily call upon for help are in recess. For example, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators doesn’t meet until August, and the NAACP board of directors will not reconvene until February 2016. Although the National Urban League has issued a report about disparity in jobs and education among blacks, we do not have the luxury of time or convenience to wait until the next report. We can’t wait.

If black lives really do matter—and indeed they do—we must do something now. For too long we have been waiting and suffering; it’s time for change. French poet and philosopher Victor Hugo once said, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” This is our time!

Social economists and inventors claim that it takes a decade to build a platform that will shift ideas. It’s been well over 250 years of maturation. When are African Americans going to realize that no one is going to fight for us except us? When will the status of blacks in America shift? When will black lives matter to the masses?

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Nearly every school in the black community is underfunded. The jobless rate among African Americans continues to hover at a staggering 13 percent. The message is clear, and I say this respectfully: We can’t wait on the White House, a caucus or council members to help us. We blacks in America cannot rely on others to run our schools and communities, and determine which jobs we get and at what salaries. We can’t wait.

Instead of building more corporate-run jails around the country, let’s focus on ending crime. As maladies such as heart disease, HIV/AIDS and diabetes continue to increase among minorities, let’s work toward offering more prevalent health care options. The country has no emergency implementation, no accelerated funding and no decisive action for blacks. Therefore, we must demand these from ourselves.

The hour has come for black people to believe what they’ve been marching for and praying about for years: “We shall overcome,” and “Black lives matter!”

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If you’re like me and you no longer have the patience to wait, let us start moving toward change. I am rallying for the galvanization of black America to flex its $1.1 trillion spending power. We have the power to create better communities, schools and housing by recirculating our dollars in our own communities more frequently, and we don’t need anyone’s permission.

I absolutely cannot wait. I am starting now. Join me.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

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The Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant is a pastor at Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, with more than 10,000 members. His global mission is to empower people spiritually, develop them educationally, expose them culturally, activate them politically and strengthen them economically. This new-millennium minister is an impassioned social activist, community developer and cultural philanthropist. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.