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.
These are difficult days.
Few Black Americans naively believed we were entering a postracial epoch with the election of our first Black president. But many of us never imagined we still would be forced to declare “Black Lives Matter!” President Obama is not responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves, but his election unleashed a particularly virulent form of anti-Black racism. Even he is victimized by it. However transformative his 2008 election was, when the state that is supposed to protect us in 2014 kills us with impunity, it undermines any modicum of confidence we have in our nation’s potential for true and lasting change. With each Not Guilty verdict or refusal of grand juries to indict those who murder us, with each occurrence of an unarmed Black person’s murder, we are left unmoored. More often than not it is the killing of young Black men by White vigilantes and police that provoke our heartfelt rage. For communities under siege, deadly encounters with the police are a fact of life. No one is unassailable.
Nonetheless, I believe we are also witnessing the birth of a new beauty: the beauty of a people engaged in a movement. It didn’t start with the response to Mike Brown’s death in Missouri, with the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida, or Moral Mondays in North Carolina. I believe these moments, particularly in Ferguson, Missouri, constitute a turning point. The insistence and passion of young organizers from the St. Louis area and those who came to join them have helped to create a mass movement that has spread throughout the nation and found a place in worldwide struggles against injustice.
These young activists come from a generation that has been written off by far too many. They inherited unsafe communities. They have been allowed to languish in failing schools and made fodder for the criminal justice system. Closer to home, their own elders have too often dismissed them by claiming them apathetic, materialistic, lacking in ambition. Their language, their music and even their sartorial choices have come under attack. And now, here they stand, bold and brave, marching to build a more just future. They have taken to the streets. They have borne witness to the world. In so doing they have ushered in the next phase of the Black Freedom Struggle. We owe them our gratitude, love, and political, emotional and financial support. They are brilliant, courageous and oh, so very beautiful.
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