Upon the election of Barack Obama to the office of the presidency in 2008, there was a widespread fantasy distributed by the mainstream media that we were somehow in a post-racial America. They pushed the notion that civil rights activism was a thing of the past, and that activists like myself were obsolete. Though many of us laughed at that idea and the preposterous undertones of such concepts, it's important that we revisit the issue now in light of the approaching 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.' And it's dually important that we discuss these mistruths as Martin Luther King III, National Action Network (NAN) and I prepare for the continuation of that march this August with a national rally that will address the challenges that continue to face us in the present. Titled 'The National Action to Realize the Dream,' the march will take place on August 24 in the nation's capital where it all began 50 years prior. Not only have there been any number of issues around race during the nearly five years of President Obama's Administration, but we are facing the biggest setback to voting rights since the civil rights era, continued high Black unemployment numbers, a host of criminal justice challenges and much more. Until we resolve these evils once and for all, a 'post-racial America' will continue to be a catchy phrase for opportunists everywhere.
Many Americans (myself included) watched with a sense of pride as a majority of the populace elected and then reelected the first African-American President of the United States of America. It was a tremendous symbolic gesture that this great nation had indeed made great progress since the horrid days of slavery and the era of 'separate but equal.' But anyone who has ever been on an airplane knows that just because you have flown through the worst turbulence on your flight, it doesn't mean that you have arrived at your destination. Unfortunately, many in the mainstream media seek to dismiss certain realities because they would like to wash their hands free of having to deal with these issues, but their silence can be viewed as an accomplice to those that would seek to turn back the clock. And when people like myself do raise awareness of things under the surface, we get demonized and portrayed as if we have some sort of vested interest in continuing the fight for equal protection under the law and equal opportunity other than the need for that urgent equality.
I distinctly remember the day that attorney Benjamin Crump and the parents of deceased victim Trayvon Martin approached me and asked that I use the power of NAN to bring national attention to the fact that their son's alleged killer, George Zimmerman, had in effect been exonerated by the Sanford Police Department before they even buried their young child. I was not aware of the incident, but was outraged when I learned that the police let Zimmerman go free the night of the shooting because of his version of a story that he had told them. The Sanford police let this man walk away before they even identified the body of the victim, or before they could decipher whether or not Zimmerman had been in a feud with the deceased, or any number of different scenarios. Zimmerman was told that he could go home, and return to the tragic scene the next day and recount what took place. Trayvon's parents, their attorney and members of the community were furious and said the Sanford police would have never behaved in this manner were the victim White. Their contention and mine never was that Zimmerman's actions were race-based, but rather that the police department's actions and mishandling of the situation were race-based. Given the history of Sanford PD, their objections seemed well placed.
When the Martin family and their attorney approached me, NAN and I were engaged in the ongoing fight against voter suppression. We had just concluded the re-enactment of the historic march from Selma to Montgomery and weren't looking to take on new issues, but once I looked at the facts of this terrible case, I was furious as well. It became my duty to bring national attention to this injustice, which resulted in the appointment of a special prosecutor, and a trial where Zimmerman's fate would be in the hands of a judge and jury -- and not the desires of random police officers. Of course, your usual chorus of critics came out and said that I somehow interjected race into the case, when clearly it was the position of those that called upon me that felt so strongly that race played a definitive role in the way in which the case was handled from the beginning. That is, after all, why they approached me as a civil rights leader. And those that say that I do this just for publicity -- despite the fact that I host a highly rated TV show every weeknight, and a nationally syndicated radio show six days a week -- would simply like to dismiss people fighting for truth. They will say or do just about anything other than to deal with the realities involved with race in America today.
I use the Zimmerman case as an example of the denial of many in government and in mainstream media of racial discrimination, bias and prejudice in the modern era. Let's be transparently clear about one thing: the issues will not magically disappear by avoiding them, or attacking those that stand up and call attention to them. It will only get worse until it is dealt with and addressed head on. Like any disease, a lack of detection leads to a lack of remedies and healing. NAN and I have stood and will continue to stand, rally and support the rights of immigrants, women and the LGBT community. And I hope that they stand with us as we continue to fight Dr. King's dream.
Not long ago, the iconic John Lewis joined me in New Orleans and stated his strong support of our march this August. As the only living member of the Big Six Leaders who stood alongside Dr. King 50 years ago, he pledged to stand now with Martin Luther King III and I on August 24th. Myrlie Evers, widow of the great civil rights organizer Medgar Evers who was viciously assassinated 50 years ago, recently made a strong statement discussing the progress that we have achieved as a society, but she also highlighted the fact that we have many tasks that remain ahead of us. I trust their counsel and their judgment more than I do those in government and those in mainstream media who have never fought this battle and who only want these realities to go away so their own practices and biases are not held accountable. Until we, the people of this nation, unite as one and continue fighting for expanded equality for all of God's children so that they may in fact be free from persecution, discrimination and the shackles of inequality, a post-racial America will only be a comfort on the lips of those seeking to advance themselves. We must work to make it an actual reality -- and that's a dream we all should have.
This story appears in Issue 58 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, July 19.