By Donald Watkins –
This weekend marks the 50th Anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march. I did not attend the celebratory events this weekend. I am still deeply troubled by the fact that today’s civil rights movement has morphed into an endless cycle of commemorative events and celebratory parties consisting mostly of photo opportunities. This would be okay if black America had achieved some measure of economic and political parity with white America, but this is not the case.
At a time when the wealth gap between white and black Americans is greater than it has been since slavery ended, we are partying. Excessive police violence against unarmed blacks is spreading across America in a shocking fashion. The high school dropout rate for black males is alarming. America’s prisons are overflowing with black prisoners. Black teenage pregnancies are skyrocketing. Our public schools are failing. Our historic black universities are crumbling because of a lack of vision and quality leadership. The achievement gap between black Americans and white Americans is unacceptable. The black jobless rate is more than double the white unemployment rate. Gang violence is on the rise in our inner cities. Unchecked discriminatory lending practices by America’s banks is spiraling out of control and severely crippling black access to loans and capital.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was the crown jewel of the 1965 civil rights protests, has been gutted beyond recognition.
I watched on Saturday as many national and state political figures, many of whom opposed the original version of the Voting Rights Act, cleansed their consciences and legacies by participating in photo opportunities with the Obamas and other supporters of the Act who had gathered to commemorate the bravery of the marchers in Selma 50 years ago. More than 100 members of Congress, some of whom are Republican opponents of the Act, also joined Obama in Selma. Those opponents of the Act were given a unique opportunity in Selma to perpetrate a fraud on history by getting a photograph depicting their presence on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the 50th Anniversary commemorative event. They were there to celebrate the event, not to support the Act.
When it was all said and done on Saturday, not one of the Congressional opponents of the Voting Rights Act who traveled to Selma for a photo opportunity on the Edmund Pettus Bridge pledged his/her political support for the restoration of the key provisions of the Act that were gutted by the Republican-controlled U.S. Supreme Court. Furthermore, not a single politician announced new economic revitalization packages to rebuild Selma, which is in dire need of economic development. Sadly, Selma will be just as black, just as poor, and just as neglected tomorrow as it was the day before the celebrations and parties commenced.
I long for the day when blacks will make history in the quest for equal rights once again and not just celebrate the historic achievements of the courageous men and women in the civil rights movement from 50 years ago. I understand that blacks make history all of the time on athletic fields and through our singing and acting ability. Of course, this is noble work.
However, the time has come for black Americans to rise to the challenge again and focus our energy and resources on making impactful history on the overall quality of black life in America by using our intellectual acumen, educational institutions, community and civic organizations, businesses, churches, and familial relationships to propel us to a higher orbit in society. We have done it before, and we must do it again.
America owes us nothing but an opportunity to compete on a level playing field, and she produces this opportunity everyday, across every spectrum of American life. We must seize this opportunity and not waste it. One of the keys to seizing it is voting.
Ironically, the line to purchase the newest Jordans today is longer than the line in many black communities to vote for public officials who govern our lives and destiny. This is not what the Selma marchers risked their lives for 50 years ago. This is not why they shed their blood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
We can and must change this paradigm. Our future depends upon it.
I will be listening in the coming weeks for our elected officials and corporate leaders to announce their 21st Century agenda for improving the depressing state of black America. My gut feeling tells me that no such announcement will be forthcoming. This conundrum highlights the occasional emptiness of celebratory events. When they are over, everything seems to remain the same.
Without a new and relevant agenda, black America will continue to march in an endless circle of celebrations and parties while it languishes in a permanent state of despair.
© 2015, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.