They weren’t alive to witness the March on Washington 50 years ago, nor have they experienced the kind of racial tensions of 1963, but today’s teenagers are still passionate about realizing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “dream” for America.
“His message helps the community today,” said Darius Walker, a 17-year-old who leads a youth ministry in New York. “To stand up for what you believe in, trust that God will make a difference, and join others and work together.
Like millions of millennials across the country, Walker is calling for the same kind of change that Dr. King spoke about in his iconic “I have a dream” speech — and trusting his generation to make a difference.
Bringing Dr. King’s dream of equality to a new era, young Americans have shown overwhelming support for gay rights and same-sex marriage. They have rallied for women’s rights and led “hoodie protests” against racial profiling following the death of Trayvon Martin. Young people also helped elect, and reelect, our country’s first black president.
Despite their support for the “civil rights issues of today,” teens also feel the effects of modern-day inequalities and injustices first-hand. Minority students suffer from an academic achievement gap, higher youth unemployment rates, and lower earning potential. They are more likely to get suspended from school and spend time in the juvenile justice system, too.
“There is still a lot of prejudice, there is still a lot we can work on,” said 14-year-old May Robison, who won an essay contest about Dr. King’s message at the March on Washington. “At any point, you could take a sentence from that speech and it would mean something to you today. Not only the world you are living in, but to you personally.”
While this week’s anniversary events will commemorate the “greatest demonstration for freedom this nation has ever seen,” they will also serve as a reminder that our work is not done, and that young people must carry Dr. King’s torch to let freedom ring.
“We have to keep the memory alive. Because it can be relevant to anyone, any age, any era,” said Robison.