What Have You Done for Us Lately?

Harry Belafonte was right: Today's young people don't have enough interest in the issues that affect our community, Janelle Harris writes at Essence. She cites the legacy of black civil rights heroines as an example of what is possible.

Rosa's gone. Coretta's gone. Dorothy's gone, too. Our civil rights heroines, the rebels who dedicated their lives to Black empowerment, the legends we read about in textbooks and watched in grainy heyday footage, are aging and passing on … But the work they struggled and sacrificed for is still unfinished. So who's going to step up to carry on the legacy? …

I agree with Harry Belafonte. I think young people could be doing more. Twenty, thirty, forty-somethings. It's not just the celebrities, though they're certainly part of the vanguard for making philanthropy and activism cool, which is unfortunately necessary for some folks to get involved. There's been an ugly dumbing down when it comes to acknowledging and addressing pertinent issues, even having empathy for and interest in what's impacting our community. It's an attitude of detachment: does it affect me directly? Does it hurt anyone I know? Then it don't really matter.

There are too many people freeloading off of the work our predecessors did — and many died for — without observing the laws of retribution to make it even easier for somebody else. I don't care if you have an affinity for what goes on in your tiny corner of Bed-Stuy or your section of Southeast DC. Care about something, for God's sake … If getting involved with civil rights to guarantee a level playing and living field for Black folks doesn't move you, get involved with women's issues. Human trafficking. Ending poverty and homelessness. HIV/AIDS. Foster care. Fair trade. Animal rights. Join a treehuggers' union and strap yourself to an exotic shrub in the rainforest. Just do something.


Read Janelle Harris' entire piece at Essence.com.

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.