Unprovoked and un-prosecuted police brutality that preys upon people of color.
Separate and unequal education systems that consistently fail poor children of color.
Segregated housing that concentrates poverty and consequently, crime, in communities of color.
A discriminatory wage gap for women and people of color that bolsters growing wealth inequality.
And preventable patterns of disease that plague poor communities of color.
The contemporary threats to equality in American life are disturbingly similar to the injustices that emboldened leaders of the Civil Rights Movement more than 50 years ago. But while the issues that define our time are unsettlingly familiar, the opportunities to act are profoundly different.
With the advent of social media, ordinary individuals now have unprecedented access to both publish and consume publicly curated news. This step to democratize information creates a space for enduring public discourse and a real-time portal into the many faces of racism, sexism, classism, and cultural ethnocentrism that endanger our most basic American values.
The legacy of the Civil Rights Movement freed us from the tyranny of these “isms” at the ballot box, in the classroom, in our neighborhoods, in our work places, and in the public spaces of American life. In so doing, the acts of thousands of courageous Americans set a new precedence for our nation to reaffirm its commitment to liberty and justice.
Today that commitment is under attack. And although the challenges we face are formidable, our responsibility is great. So who will rise to the challenge? Who among us is willing to take the protests and the hash-tags into the daily routines of our lives where the insidious acts of racism, sexism, classism, and cultural ethnocentrism threaten the values we hold most dear? Who will fight for equality today?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an exemplary American who challenged us to rise to the height of our humanity. But we cannot wait for another visionary to bring us to the mountaintop.
The urgency of justice demands we act now, one institution, one industry, one community, one person, one step at a time.
If you are a teacher or school administrator, challenge the “zero-tolerance” policies that forge the school-to-prison pipeline, disproportionately shunting students of color and students with disabilities, as early as preschool, into the criminal justice system for routine school infractions.
If you are a local government official, question the redistricting policies that dilute the voting power of minorities and overturn voting registration policies that may prevent the elderly, the poor, or people of color from exercising their constitutional rights.
If you are a housing developer or real estate speculator, invest in mixed-income housing that enable people, regardless of race and class, to share the public benefits of education, parks, and recreation that flourish in proportion to local tax appropriations.
If you are an environmental advocate, lobby to protect poor communities of color from the industrial pollution that threatens their air,soil, and water quality and ultimately jeopardizes their health.
If you are a police officer, challenge “stop and frisk” policies that disproportionately target Black and Latino individuals and confront the biased assumptions that may lead you to suspect persons of color or treat them with excessive force.
If you are an writer, publisher, producer, or actor, demand that our films and books offer a genuine look into the lives of all Americans. This requires equal representation on the written page, behind the camera, and in front of it, to reflect the diversity of the American experience.
If you are a student, consider if women are disproportionately subject to sexual violence on your campus, and stand in solidarity with the victims in demanding that your faculty and administration protect young women and their bodies.
If you are a business administrator or owner, critically look at your workforce, from the leadership to the average employee to the staff and ensure that the process by which you recruit, hire, and compensate employees reflects equity in opportunities for women and people of color.
As Dr. King sagely foretold, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The racism exacted with the lethal precision to take the life of Eric Garner is just as pernicious as the sexism that ostracizes and threatens the lives of victims of sexual assault on our college campuses. It is time to connect the dots between all forms of oppression in American life and work towards justice.
The modern movement for equality will be powered by the daily diligence of the masses, not the brilliance of one leader. We all must summon the courage to go to into our work place, our classroom, our community, and our home, and engineer justice, create equality.
As we remember, with pride and gratitude, the life of Dr. King, let us not rely on his memory to ensure our liberty and justice. Without his living example, let us be his voice for change.
I am MLK.
This week, join @schumerj and I, as we tweet out our commitment to change our workplace, community, or social networks using the hash-tag #IamMLK and let’s build a coalition of leaders for justice. Also look for an upcoming 2-part piece on racism in the American health care system and what we can do about it. In solidarity, Rhea MD