Where Do We Go From Here?: Essay by Reverend Al Sharpton

As the Black Lives Matter movement coalesces on social media and around the globe—ESSENCE invited activists, authors, thought leaders and cultural figures to reflect on the meaning of this moment, and what we must do next.

I've seen this now for years: When you sustain protests, then you can get change. That's how our community was able to get the Rodney King case prosecuted by the federal government, and those cops were convicted. We saw the same with Abner Louima. When we start and stop, when it's just emotional and then it peters out in a few weeks, that's when everything goes back to normal. But if we can keep it going, we can change laws. I've spent a lot of time with young people at the National Action Network, teaching them the history of movements. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was in 1955, when I was a year old. They didn't get the law changed until 1964. So change sometimes happens right away, and sometimes it takes time—but we keep going. This is the time; this is our 1964. This is the year the laws can change if we stay on it.

The best of the young people who are coming out and protesting will stick, and the others will go through a season. I saw a lot emerge during Trayvon—some of them stayed in the movement and are in Ferguson. But a lot of people get mad and move on. Once you have a spotlight on an issue, it illuminates the people who are committed. But they've got to stay that way. There's a difference between an activist and a celebrity. Don't go by when the shine is on you; you've got to be just as active in the shade.

So we are going to keep rallying around the country, putting pressure on Congress to change the law, and we'll keep vigils going at the Justice Department until it convenes a grand jury to bring federal charges. Marching on Washington is to crystallize the issue, but it's not the end, it's the beginning.

This contribution, along with others exploring the new civil rights movement, appears in ESSENCE's special #BlackLivesMatter issue. This historic collector's edition is available on stands January 9.


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