By Kanene Holder, Center alumna
“Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.”
—Dr. Martin Luther King, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” April 3, 1968
For Every Act of Injustice, There is A Response for Equality
Last week, April 4 marked the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Paying homage to MLK’s Poor People Campaign, I headed to a march for justice for fast-food workers. This is also the third week of the Stop and Frisk trial. I was stopped and frisked in 2002, hence I stood in solidarity with NYC high school students and activists near the courthouse demanding justice. The week prior, hundreds took to the streets of Harlem speaking against gun violence. The week before that, crowds sat and watched the 10-year anniversary of the award-winning Bowling for Columbine documentary and reflected on how far we have come. After the screening, I listened to the passion of organizers and was teleported back to my idyllic childhood filled with ribbons in my hair and black and white composition notebooks. Ensnarled in my own dissonance, I wondered why, in this land of opportunity I was taught to pledge allegiance to, justice is absent or missing in action.
Silent No More
More than a year after my involvement in Occupy Wall Street, I am more hopeful than ever that we as a nation are at a tipping point, acutely aware of that economic, racial, and gender inequality that prevents us from living the American Dream. As reflected in Obama’s last State of the Union address and conversations through mainstream media outlets, our national consciousness is lately focusing in on several inconvenient truths that plague our nation.
For example, recently during the Stop and Frisk trial, New York State Senator Eric Adams testified that NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly “stated that he targeted and focused on that group [African Americans and Latinos] because he wanted to instill fear in them that every time that they left their homes they could be targeted by police.” This is just one limb on a tree of oppression that continues to cast shadows of doubt on a brighter future. This tree’s malignant roots seem too deep to dig out. The branches reach into our very souls. Instead of supporting a nest of prosperity and equality, this tree supports the fruit of home foreclosures, spiraling food and gas prices, and the prevention of a living wage, quality schools, gun reform, and affordable health care.
These are just some examples of “American Justice Missing in Action,” but more people nationwide are saying “Don’t Tread on Me” as they speak up for equality. They understand the phrase “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” and they are on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere marching, sharing information, and advocating for better policies.
Fierce Urgency of Now
We are no longer a silent majority. The Internet, social media, and camera phones have become tools for our freedom of information acts, reinforcing that we are not alone as we seek justice. We can document and share our story faster than zapping a frozen dinner. In fact, there is a wave of media warriors, engaged in the slow boil of shaping a new society, and restoring justice. They know that “The arc of the universe is long, but bends towards justice.”
Keeping Hope Alive
I’m encouraged by the momentum I see gaining across the country. Congress and corporations are being challenged. Outrage is turning into accountability. Together we are, as Ghandi implored, “[b]e[ing] the change we want to see in the world.” Today we can use a composition notebook, a laptop, or a smartphone to communicate our desire for justice. When will justice be restored in America and throughout the world? How can our youth take part in this process and lay the groundwork for themselves as engaged advocates? Stay tuned.
Read More about Kanene Holder and our other alumni here.