As the world community observes and celebrates the 89th birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it is important for Black America to assess how far we have come 50 years since the tragic brutal assassination of Dr. King in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.
As a young worker for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), under the visionary leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. from 1963-1968 in North Carolina, I still have many vivid memories. I remember Dr. King’s admonition to “Stay focused on building an inclusive beloved community, and to not let evil in high places divert us from the pathway that will ensure freedom, justice and equality for all.”
Today, as we acknowledge and pay tribute to Dr. King’s freedom-fighting legacy, there are 47 million African Americans in the United States and more than a billion people of African descent in Africa, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Europe, Asia and in other places throughout the African diaspora. We are all called to remain vigilant and vocal in our unified demands for freedom, economic empowerment and equality.
Let no vulgar utterance of “sh–hole,” racist rhetoric or arrogant actions by evil in powerful high places divert our attention and focus from what we should be doing to continue our long struggle for liberation from centuries of abject oppression, slavery, poverty and racism. Dr. King, in his final years, had to consistently remind us that our struggle was local, national and international. One of King’s most famous quotes was, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
As we reflect and renew our commitments to the dream and activism of Dr. King, we dare not become complacent or satisfied with the status quo of economic inequality and racial disparity in the U.S. and throughout the world. We dare not become comfortable with the growing unnatural climate disasters caused by environmental injustices and global warming.
We dare not fall asleep amidst the welcomed resurgence of youth and student activism who know so well the contradictions of the evils of police brutality, mass incarceration, healthcare inadequacies, unemployment and too-low wages, and failing educational systems in a nation that has an abundant concentration of wealth at the very top levels of society.
This year also marks the 191st year of the Black Press in America since this first publication of Freedom’s Journal in New York City on March 16, 1827. Every hour, day, week, month and year, the Black Press continues to publish and distribute the truth and advocate for freedom and justice in the U.S., Africa, the Caribbean and throughout the world. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote editorials and op-eds for the Black Press at a time when the so-called mainstream media would cast negative coverage about the progress of the Civil Rights Movement.
This year, 2018, should be the payback year with the largest Black voter turnout in American history. All of those repressive elected politicians that have supported voter suppression need to be removed from office by the overwhelming power of massive voter mobilization and turnout in every state legislative and congressional voting district across the nation. Our time has come again. Let’s unify and win more victories at the voting booths. Let’s strengthen Black-owned businesses and our families and communities. Subscribe to and support the Black Press.
We owe it to the memory and living legacy of Dr. King to strengthen and refortify all our national civil rights organizations. We should all be networking together with stronger operational unity. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has elected the new leadership of Derrick Johnson, and we all should be card-carrying members of the NAACP. The African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa has elected the new leadership of Cyril Ramaphosa, and we all should be supportive of the ANC to ensure that Nelson Mandela’s and Oliver Tambo’s legacies are carried forward to new heights in South Africa.
In fact, throughout the African diaspora, we should be unifying and working together with a renewed energy, determination and vitality. Sisters and brothers standing together with mutual respect and commitment is the order of today. Keep your heads up. Put your fists back up in the air. It is movement-building time again. Long live the spirit and memory of Martin Luther King Jr.!
Chavis Jr. is president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @drbenchavis.