Bakari Sellers knows the importance of a youth movement firsthand.
At age 22, he became the youngest elected Black official in American history, serving as state representative for South Carolina’s 90th District from 2006-2014. Now, at age 33, he is a political analyst on CNN.
“Young people were always the impetus of change in every social movement we’ve seen,” he said as the keynote speaker at Bowie State University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Symposium on Wednesday, April 4, the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination.
“For my generation, you have Mike Brown, which spawned Black Lives Matter,” Sellers said, referring to the Black teen fatally shot by a White police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. “It wasn’t so much that he was killed, it was they left his body on that sweltering cement for ten hours treating him as inhumanly as possible.”
Sellers said what moved his father’s generation to protest was the killing of another Black teenager, Emmett Till, in the 1950s.
“The strength of Mrs. Till to have an open casket is the reason why many leaders during the civil rights movement carried pictures of Emmett Till in their wallets,” he said.
Sellers reminded his audience of America’s not-too-distant past — just one generation removed from King’s assassination and the impact of Jim Crow — and the work that remains, but acknowledged the massive change on many different levels. He cited the Women’s March, in which Black women and White women put forth issues under one umbrella, as an example of how to accumulate power.
He compared what his parents’ generation experienced to what today’s youth is now taking on. His father Cleveland Sellers, retired professor at the University of South Carolina and a former leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC), was the only person convicted and jailed for events at the Orangeburg Massacre, a 1968 civil rights protest where three students were killed by state troopers.
Sellers said he sees the future of political power with young people, realizing that in 2024, millennials and Generation Z — the first generation in America in which people of color will be the majority of the working class — will make up 49 percent of the electorate, with the ability to dictate policy.
“Where do we go from here?” Sellers asked the audience. “I think Dr. King wanted us to dream with our eyes open. We must continue to do what’s right, if for no other reason than because people gave their lives simply because it was.”