Eyes on the Prize: Advancing the Cause of Civil Rights

Americans across the country will soon gather to celebrate our nation's independence. But it is July 2nd that we must hold in our hearts and minds, if we are to fulfill our nation's promise of freedom and equality for all.

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed what many consider the most important piece of legislation in American history, the Civil Rights Act. This law banned discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin and banned the unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and at facilities that served the general public.

Decades following its passage, African Americans, Latinos, women and other marginalized communities passed through doors once closed in numerous facets of American society. From leaders in the ivory towers of academia, to our boardrooms, to the highest office in the land, this country witnessed what can be achieved when access and opportunity is extended to all.

But, the enemies of justice and equality have - and continue - to engineer periods of backlash stalling our ability to fulfill the Act's legacy.

The pendulum that once swung towards equality now swings back eroding the gains for which generations before us so valiantly fought. Urban centers in our nation are collapsing under the weight of inadequate health care; substandard housing; high infant mortality; declining public school systems, uneven distribution of wealth; extreme violence and swelling prison enrollment. Growing inequality in women's rights, disability rights, gay rights and immigrant rights also span our nation.

What's worse: the institutions that once served as allies for equality, including the Supreme Court and Congress, have become its detractors. From the invalidation of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act to upholding bans on affirmative action, many who occupy the halls of political power have lost touch with the realities and protections necessary for our country's ever changing and diverse population.

We, however, will not be turned around. Racism, discrimination and equal opportunity remains at the forefront of our social agenda and the NAACP along with our multigenerational and multicultural allies are together leading the way.

By listening to and talking with each other we recognize in 2014 -- like in 1964 -- that we share more commonalities than we do differences. We all deserve a quality education, a secure job that pays a living wage, to be able to walk down the street without judgment and unfettered access to the ballot box.

Our collective struggle for freedom, justice, and equality is what unites us and requires men and women -- of all hues, ages, orientations and political affiliations-- to make this nation what it ought to be: "One nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all."

As Americans we have never waited for freedom; we fought for freedom. And each and every one of us has a stake in ensuring that our children and grandchildren live in a country with infinite hopes and possibilities.

Therefore, this weekend, let us not allow the fireworks, barbeques and parades to distract us from keeping our eyes on the prize: full freedom and opportunity for all. As President Lyndon B. Johnson said, while "yesterday is not ours to recover, tomorrow is ours to win or lose." We've come too far to turn back now; courage will not skip this generation.