Like so many of you I heaved a sigh of relief when the announcement was made that George Zimmerman had been arrested. After weeks of marches and protests, letters and articles, tweets and media appearances, justice has been served - or has it? Over the course of the past few weeks our country has experienced what many have referred to as our "Emmett Till Moment."
Emmett Till, just three years younger than Trayvon, was murdered while visiting relatives in Mississippi. Till was beaten, one of his eyes gouged, and shot for allegedly whistling at a white woman. When Till's body was returned to Chicago his mother insisted on a public funeral service with an open casket. Tens of thousands attended his funeral or viewed his casket and images of his mutilated body were published in black magazines and newspapers. Then like now, black media was criticized for their focus on this boy's tragic demise. Then like now, the grassroots outcry drew sympathizers of all backgrounds and experiences. Then Emmett's mother's quest for justice spurred a movement, so we must ask what will result from this historical moment?
How do we move the chants for justice into a consistent call for change? How do we draw the anger over the loss of one life into accountability for the loss of any life? How does the light of injustice over "Stand Your Ground" law in Orlando help illuminate a way to cease "Stop and Frisk" in New York? How does a child killed in the bathroom in the Bronx connect to a child killed on the streets with some skittles? How does a moment become a movement?
Invite the agitated
We must take this time of increased media attention to change this moment into a movement. After the protests, attendees must be invited to not only vent their frustrations but create space for their ideas and suggestions. Over 10 years ago, the National Urban League made a conscious decision to reach out to youth ages 22-39 to join our organization. The result is a vibrant Young Professionals network. Traditional organizations like the one I lead have to create space for the next generation to learn and lead. We must also reach out to existing grassroots organizations who have been birthed since the Civil Rights movement.
Engage those most affected
Together, we must create vehicles for youth to speak directly to policy makers and advocate for change. Our youth are the key to the future and only through giving their voice a platform can we make sustainable change. The New York Urban League recently initiated the Harlem Youth Council where students have the opportunity to present their concerns, ideas and solutions for the future directly to stake holders. The Youth Council came from conversations about community violence we were having. We were challenged to not talk about youth, but have them talk to each other and develop their own solutions. These types of platforms are critical at a time like this, so our youth are heard and have a place at the table.
Move from tweeting to talking
In our world of constant connection and social media, we must encourage civic engagement both through social media and on the ground. Social media can be a great tool for organizing and messaging, but this is just the beginning. We must take our "likes" and "follows" off the twitter and Facebook pages to the ground. We must not forget that to be actively engaged also includes working with policy makers, organizations and community by community, block by block
During the course of the Trayvon Martin protests, I have spoken to other civil rights and community leaders, teens and others whose hooded sweatshirts make them a target. After all those conversations, in the end it is an email from my Mother that has stayed with me. In so many ways, it does make sense that the person who told me about Emmett Till would provide me with the words to help me make sense of our generation's defining moment. My Mother, who grew in a sharecropping tradition in Arkansas, said, "It seems like things are changing... but we can't put our gloves down."
We must use our gloves to turn this great tragedy into a movement for change. We must work to ensure that no other family must go through this heartbreak, so no youngster is worried about walking home at night and so together, as a community we open up the lines of communications between neighbors, parents, youth, police and policy makers.