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50 Years After the March on Washington: A Teen's Perspective

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On August 28, 1963, civil rights activists from all over the country flocked to the nation's capital for the March on Washington, which advocated for economic equality between races. Almost 50 years later, on August 24, 2013, I attended the National Action to Realize the Dream rally in Washington, D.C. The event commemorated the progress that African Americans have made in the past 50 years and recognized the work that still must be done in order to fully conquer racial oppression.

After a day of powerful speeches at the Lincoln Memorial, crowds of people marched along the National Mall. Individuals advocated for a variety of causes, from gay rights to immigration reform. As I joined the march, I could feel the urgency in the atmosphere. Chants resonated across the sea of people as posters and American flags were thrust into the air. "They say 'Get back!' we say 'Fight back!'" "Trayvon! Martin! Trayvon! Martin!" The activists' messages were powerful; their unity even more so.

The passion displayed at the rally made it especially clear that our country still has a long way to go to achieve equality for all. Stop-and-frisk laws, the war on drugs that disproportionately targets minorities, and the increasing wealth gap between races are just a few of the many injustices that need to be resolved. Additionally, rampant cultural appropriation and supposedly comical "hipster racism" are issues that largely affect today's youth.

The first step in eliminating these problems is recognizing that racial disparity exists outside of history textbooks. As an African American, I've realized that it is not enough to quietly work hard and hope for success. No matter how high I jump, I cannot overcome the institutional barriers that have existed for centuries; they must be dismantled first. I saw many other teens marching, and their presence was reassuring. Even though the media likes to depict us as woefully apathetic and selfish, I believe that my generation is breaking away from the mindset of the past. As young people pave the way towards a more just future, we must realize that solidarity is essential. A movement that advocates for everyone will ultimately succeed over one that does not consider the overlapping nature of prejudice.

The most memorable moment of the march occurred when Trayvon Martin's family walked within feet of where I was standing. I wanted so badly to say something to them -- but nothing I could conjure up in a few seconds could convey the anger, grief, and helplessness I felt towards the tragedy of their loss. Trayvon's presence was felt throughout the entire event, making me question how much progress we've truly made in these 50 years. If I still share Dr. King's dream in 2013, what have we accomplished?

But in the background of the march, the upcoming African American History and Culture museum was under construction. The scene was inspiring, reminding me that there is still time for our story to be told. I hope it will be one of triumph.