When Dr. King was assassinated, President Obama was 7.
It was 1968. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson was 6. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, was 23. Naomi Davis, a Green For All Fellow and one of Chicago's most celebrated environmentalists, was 13.
Many of the African-American leaders who now carry the torch of justice that King lit were young when he died -- toddlers, elementary school students, just out of college. Now, Lisa P. Jackson, Rep. Cleaver, Naomi Davis and others are leading a new movement -- a movement for a green economy. They came of age in a world without Dr. King's physical presence, but within the enormous shadow he cast over America.
Jackson, of course, now leads the Environmental Protection Agency. During the last year, she and her agency introduced groundbreaking new environmental protections that will dramatically improve low-income communities and create jobs that will power America's economic recovery. As Mayor of Kansas City, Cleaver launched an innovative Green Improvement Zone; and now fights for a stronger environment for all Americans in Congress. Davis, the granddaughter of Mississippi sharecroppers and founder of Blacks in Green in Chicago is carrying forth the legacy of community organizing in the black community, training local leaders to tap into their cultural legacy of sustainable economics and resilience. She calls this grannynomics. Each help carry King's vision forward in a different direction, to the same destination.
Young people continue to be inspired by Dr. King. His vision of a just, more equal America will always resonate -- it will always provide energy to progressive movements. And it's manifested in many way-s - one of those ways is through artistic expression.
That's the energy that we hope to capture in Green For All's new contest -- The Dream Reborn: Who's Next? We are launching the contest today in honor of Dr. King's legacy. Contestants are asked to write and perform a song about how Dr. King's inspiration leads them to push for a new, green, economy. The winning song will receive a $1,000 prize -- plus, we'll produce a video for the track!
Like millions of Americans, we see the green economy as a rebirth of Dr. King's message. King's dream was one of equality -- and we still have a long way to go. You can still predict who will suffer the impacts of air pollution, who will have less access to fresh food, who needs to worry the most about water quality, based on the color of their skin and the community in which they live. The green economy promises to solve those problems -- and put people back to work. It's the dream of a just America, in a new context. And our young people get it.
When Green For All held a similar contest back in 2010, it was won by a group of middle school students in Minnesota that called themselves the Climate Change Crew. The video we produced for them -- which you can watch at the contest website, DreamRebornContest.com -- conveys their energy and passion in fighting for a cleaner, greener tomorrow. These young people were not alive during Dr. King's time, but they are inspired by what he fought for and accomplished -- and recognize what his fight looks like today.
Yesterday's young people are today's leaders in the fight for a just, green economy. Today's young people are tomorrow's leaders. But today, they're our inspiration. They're the energy in our movement. With The Dream Reborn: Who's Next? contest we hope to find a new anthem that captures that energy, that spirit, that dream -- for another generation to come.
Follow Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins on Twitter: www.twitter.com/phaedrael