03/25/2015 01:23 pm ET Updated May 25, 2015

Reaching the Finish Line


On March 25, 1965, more than 20,000 marchers of every race, color, religion and creed poured into the city of Montgomery to celebrate a journey birthed from violence and vitriol but ended in peace and progress.

Given the widespread popularity of the film Selma, and the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," many are familiar with the vicious resistance peaceful marchers faced while trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on their way to Montgomery. Many know that it took two attempts and the loss of several lives -- both black and white -- before marchers successfully completed the five-day, 50-mile journey on the third try.

But in a time when the beatings and killings of unarmed black teens at the hands of police have become commonplace; when the value of black lives has been called into question; when the problems of poverty and unemployment and voter disenfranchisement run rampant in black communities; it is important, even necessary, that we celebrate the marchers' big finish in Montgomery.

The marchers could have given up after the first attempt. They could have thrown in the towel following the second. Instead, they kept marching. And like those dynamic practitioners of democracy of yesteryear, the NAACP will not be turned around. We will not cower in the face of injustice. We will not stop fighting for equality until we reach the finish line.

Earlier this month, I stood between President Barack Obama and 105-year-old civil rights activist Amelia Boynton on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. As we linked arms, I felt the courage of our nation's past connected to the audacity of our nation's future.

We find ourselves amid a third reconstruction. The first reconstruction is the period immediately following the Civil War where millions of people who were formerly enslaved worked to carve out an existence devoid of enslavement.

The modern civil rights movement represents the second reconstruction as African Americans -- nearly 100 years removed from slavery -- continued to fight for the same promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that their white counterparts enjoyed.

The third reconstruction is upon us. For months, a new social justice movement has been bubbling. While the NAACP has been working on this issue for years, the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tanisha Anderson and Tamir Rice turned the nation's attention to that of police brutality. Sit-ins, die-ins, teach-ins, peaceful protests, and marches -- including the NAACP's Journey for Justice, broke out all over the country. Progress for all people is on the mind of the masses and the NAACP must continue to lead.

In our everyday fights to silence the racist chants of misguided college students and stifle overaggressive police who racially profile black children, we must reach the finish line. The next generation deserves a robust Voting Rights Amendment Act that offers every American unfettered access to the ballot box. The next generation deserves a livable wage and thriving historically black colleges and universities as a viable option for their post-secondary educations. The next generation should never have to question whether their lives matter.

In the spirit of Selma, on March 5th, the NAACP launched a new and innovative campaign, titled "America's Journey for Justice," geared toward adopting a policy agenda that protects the lives of Americans, the sustainable jobs of our citizenry, our right to vote and the integrity of our democracy.

Over the next few months, a series of direct actions will take place along the 850-mile route from Selma, Alabama to Washington, DC -- through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia to highlight vulnerable communities subject to regressive voting rights tactics. Voting is essential to resolving all the grave social and economic challenges facing America today.

The Selma to Montgomery march is more than a commemorative celebration. It is an unyielding testament to what can always be accomplished when people decide to persevere. The NAACP will keep marching until we reach the finish line and we invite all those who stand for social and racial justice to lock arms with us in the struggle. When we keep our eyes on the prize there is nothing we cannot accomplish.