2016: The Road Ahead

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 29: Protestores march on Huron Road on December 29, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. Demonstrators took to t
CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 29: Protestores march on Huron Road on December 29, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. Demonstrators took to the street the day after a grand jury declined to indict Cleveland Police officer Timothy Loehmann for the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice on November 22, 2014. (Photo by Angelo Merendino/Getty Images)

As we begin 2016, our resolve for justice is as strong as ever and our commitment to equality renewed by both the progress we have achieved and the challenges that remain before us as a nation. Whether it's voting rights, criminal justice reform, economic disparities, racism, sexism, gender discrimination or any other area, we cannot ignore the work at hand, but we must also acknowledge the achievements we have made. In that spirit, I would like to take a moment to reflect on some of the highs and lows of 2015 from my vantage point as we get ready for the road ahead.

June 17 is a date that will forever be etched in my mind, for it reflected both our advancement, and how far we have yet to go. That morning, Loretta Lynch was formally sworn in as Attorney General, becoming the first Black woman to serve in this prestigious role. But as we welcomed this historic occasion later that evening, we watched in horror as a White gunman opened fire at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, killing nine people. Speaking at and attending several of their funerals were painful moments for me, ones which mark an extreme low point for the country for 2015.

Earlier in the year, I walked with the first Black president across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, standing next to activist Amelia Boynton Robinson who was in a wheelchair, and directly behind President Obama and Congressman John Lewis. Both Amelia Boynton Robinson and Congressman Lewis were beaten on that very bridge decades earlier. It was a tremendous event that marked a high for not only myself and the Black community, but for the nation as a whole. Another pivotal marker of 2015 was when I stood with Andrew Cuomo as he became the firstg to issue an executive order to have a special prosecutor assigned to all police slayings -- something National Action Network (NAN) and I have fought in favor of for years.

Sadly, 2015 saw more police shootings and more fights for justice for these victims and their families. NAN and I were on the front lines around the Walter Scott case in North Charleston, the Corey Jones case in West Palm Beach, the fight for Tamir Rice in Cleveland and more. As we continue to push for police and criminal justice reform in this new year, let us not forget that places like Cleveland and West Palm Beach face March primaries where voters can express their outrage at the polls. We must take the frustration that we express in the streets through peaceful protests to the voting ballot box, for that is how we can hold accountable those that are supposed to serve us.

As we review the ups and downs of the past year, we must look to 2016 with renewed strength and resolve because there is a lot we must focus on and there is no time to delay. 2016 will determine the next President of the United States, and therefore who will select Supreme Court Justices. The make-up of the Senate, Congress and State Legislatures will also be key this year, as will the simultaneous fight for voting rights. This year, many new harsh voting laws and restrictions go into effect in an attempt to hinder our vote. Registration, education, organization and turnout are of paramount importance for far too many died for the right to vote, and voting is a significant mechanism by which to effect change.

We must also remain steadfast in our push for economic equality. NAN and I will be marching in Harlem on King Day in support of $15/hour minimum wage. Minimum wage increase is something that must be addressed as mothers, fathers and families struggle to make ends meet when rents are only getting higher, food more expensive and the cost of living skyrocketing. It's important to remember that Dr. King himself died dealing with economic inequality. We can continue the work.

The road ahead will not be easy; a tremendous amount of dedication, discipline and persistence will be required. But if we -- all of us as a nation -- wish to see more highs than lows, then we must collectively push for justice across the board. The results will speak for themselves when we see the first Black president followed by only God knows who and what -- but only we can determine what that will be.