Last month I was in Selma, Ala., as the nation commemorated the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when peaceful voting-rights demonstrators were viciously beaten by police. Their dedication to equality and justice resonated with people from varying backgrounds and eventually helped usher in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Five decades after that historic day in Selma, the first African-American president led a re-enactment of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge as pioneers such as Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) walked hand in hand with the president and the first family.
It was a remarkable image and a moving ceremony, an undeniable recognition of the fact that we have clearly progressed in this country. But as we paid homage to the sacrifices of the past and celebrated our victories, the fight against police brutality, voter suppression, economic inequality, homophobia and much more continued. We, as a nation, should be very proud of our advancements, but we should simultaneously renew our commitment to take on the challenges that remain.
From April 8 to 11, National Action Network will hold its annual convention at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel in the heart of New York City. Some of the leading minds in government, media, education and public policy will join activists, clergy members, students and people from across the country as we not only address many of the issues facing us today but also organize and mobilize concrete ways of truly addressing them. All of us, whether we have worked in civil rights our entire lives or are new to the concept, must dedicate ourselves to fighting for equality in the peaceful tradition of the great Martin Luther King Jr.
We are honored this year to be joined by senior members of the Obama administration, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.); New York Mayor Bill de Blasio; the governor of the state of New York, Andrew M. Cuomo; and many other dignitaries. And we are equally honored to be joined by family members of Sean Bell, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, as well as grassroots advocates on issues such as equal pay, gender equality, labor rights and fair housing. There will be panel discussions, plenary sessions, free health care screenings, award ceremonies, a women’s luncheon, revivals, youth events and much much more. There is still time to register and attend this important convention. Please visit nationalactionnetwork.net for more detailed information.
People sometimes like to think that because we are no longer living under legal segregation or that because we have a black president, racial and economic injustice and inequality no longer exist. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Even in 2015, we see renewed attacks against voting rights (including egregious new voter-ID laws in many states), cases of police brutality all across the country, legislation designed to restrict women’s reproductive rights, a pay gap across racial and gender lines, laws that continue to discriminate against the LGBT community, unfair housing practices, health care disparities, education inequality and other issues across the board. While we celebrate our successes, it is vital that we renew our work toward resolving the problems that face us today.
The demographics of the nation are undeniably shifting. As we continue to diversify, there are bound to be those who will resist change and do things to hold on to the status quo. It is up to people of goodwill from all backgrounds to come together to ensure that we keep pushing forward so that each of us—regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, creed, religion or sexual orientation—has a viable shot at achieving the American dream.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,” King said. “The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others.”
It is up to us to raise our voices, organize and strategize how we can continue helping our communities and this great nation so that in the next 50 years, future generations will look back upon our work with pride.
Join us at NAN’s convention.
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The Rev. Al Sharpton is founder and president of the National Action Network. Follow him on Twitter.