As a co-host for “Keeping it Real with Al Sharpton,” a nationally syndicated radio show, I listened respectfully when a black caller questioned the reasoning for Saturday’s March on Washington.
Why attend another rally, he asked. Why call for another mass gathering for black protestors? Why bother? In fact, the caller said, Saturday’s march would be a huge waste of time.
Sadly, I’ve heard these same kinds of ramblings from other African Americans, some who are comfortable in their jobs and their homes, and others who feel that all is well in our so-called post-racial America.
On Aug. 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to more than 200,000 people from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. His famous “I Have a Dream” speech and the march were key moments in the American Civil Rights Movement, and today, 50 years later, even though much progress has been made, all is not well in our republic.
On Saturday, I joined an estimated 100,000 African Americans, Latinos and whites, who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and then marched to the Washington Monument because they are angered and deeply concerned over the state of our union.
There were elderly people in wheelchairs and on canes, and young people wearing t-shirts to honor Trayvon Martin; folks with jobs and those who are unemployed and looking for work. There were black folks without health care insurance and single mothers who are struggling to feed their children and figure out after-school care as another school year begins.
Roy Johnson (pictured), who traveled to the march from Queens, New York, said he was marching for his two young daughters who will one day understand the importance of social justice movements.
“I’m marching to pass along knowledge to my children,” said Johnson, 48, who works in the telecommunications industry. “I’m marching because I don’t want to come back here 50 years from now to discuss these same issues.”
One of those critical issues is voting rights. The U.S. Supreme Court – along with Republican lawmakers – is trying to dismantle voting rights for people of color; many African Americans – and black children — are living in poverty, the unemployment rate among blacks is still twice the jobless rate of whites; and conservative congressmen are proposing major cuts to Pell Grants, which many black students rely on to pay college tuitions.
Much has changed since 1963: more blacks own homes, more black students are graduating from college, there are more black elected officials than in 1963, and the median income for black families has increased since 1963. But it’s also true that there are fewer black-owned businesses than 50 years ago, more racial discrimination cases filed by African Americans, a surge in racial hate groups and multiple examples of increased hatred toward President Barack Obama.