THE BLOG

Activism's Double-Duty

09/03/2013 04:24 pm ET | Updated Nov 03, 2013

This weekend, as many around the country celebrated the long Labor Day holiday break, a 1-year-old baby was killed from gunfire in my childhood borough of Brooklyn. Young Antiq Hennis was in a stroller when bullets went flying -- one tearing into the left side of his head. There is no justification in the world for such a heinous act, and it is almost impossible for most people to even process such a tragedy. Just last week, a 1-year-old in New Orleans met the same fate, when senseless gun violence ended her life as her babysitter carried her home from the park.

How can we as a society allow this sort of destruction to perpetuate on our streets? How can anyone just ignore the deaths of innocent babies? National Action Network, Martin Luther King III and I had a tremendous march on Washington recently where we both honored his father (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) and rallied against today's remaining challenges. As we follow up and prepare to put pressure on Congress and others to protect our right to vote, and fight against draconian laws like 'stand your ground' and 'stop-and-frisk', we must remain as committed to fighting internal self-destructive behavior in the community as well. It is our double-duty, and it's time each of us answer the call.

On Friday evening, September 6, I will be hosting a special live town hall at the iconic Apollo Theater in Harlem which will be broadcast on MSNBC, titled: 'Advancing the Dream'. Joining me on stage will be Stevie Wonder, Tyler Perry, Magic Johnson and more, all discussing their journey from situations of hopelessness to those of tremendous success in every sense of that word. It will be a night to inspire, motivate and encourage both young and old to never cease chasing after their own dreams, while maintaining a sense of community service. And we will of course discuss many of the civil rights battles that remain before us today. The event will be broadcast live from 6-8 PM ET on MSNBC.

During the 1960s, Dr. King rented an apartment in Chicago in order to bring awareness to the urban housing crisis. Today, as the windy city suffers from some of the most devastating rates of violence in the country, I will be taking an apartment in Chicago myself in order to put national spotlight on the epidemic of gun violence tearing families apart. I will be staying there one to two nights a week, and Martin Luther King III will be joining me from time-to-time as well. Enough is enough. We cannot continue to afford to watch babies, children, mothers, fathers, grandparents or anyone die senselessly from guns that are flooding our streets. We need to reach young folks directly, conduct gun buyback programs and urge them to put down the weapons. We need to push our elected officials to find money to create more job training programs, better schools and mentorship opportunities. We must take immediate action if we want to save ourselves.

People often think that activism is one-sided. That one must focus on a single issue and charge ahead. But true activism involves being able to tackle all the issues of the day -- both inside and outside of our own communities. As we fight against voter suppression and against attacks on worker's rights, we must also fight against violence and a sense of thug culture on our streets and in our neighborhoods. We cannot separate problems into comfortable categories and then pick and choose what we would like to address. It simply doesn't work like that. Everything is interconnected, and it is our children -- literally our babies -- that are suffering the gravest consequences.

Nobody says it will be easy, but we must have the energy and discipline to work on both fronts. And I cannot do it alone. No one person can. It must be a collective effort that strives both on the ground and in the offices of our lawmakers. It begins with raising awareness. And that is precisely what I plan on doing in Chicago and this Friday at the Apollo.

There may be a long journey ahead of us, but it is paved with the satisfaction of increased peace and justice. And that itself is the one true definition of activism.