Youth-Led Movements Are Keeping Dr. King’s Dream Alive

We can learn a lot from these young freedom fighters and help them on their way.
Illustration: Gabriela Landazuri/HuffPost; Photos: Getty Images

The civil rights movement of our parents’ generation is over, but its legacy remains and, through today’s youth, its momentum reigns. The National School Walkout earlier this month was a great, redefining moment in history. It reminded us that at its height in the 1960s, the civil rights movement drew children, teenagers and young adults into a vortex of meetings, marches and, in some cases, incarceration. And it was because of those young people that we gained some of the freedoms they were fighting for.

In the spring of 1963, months before the recitation of the “I Have A Dream” speech, thousands of youth in Birmingham, Alabama, decided they wanted to join the call to end segregation. They walked out of school and took the streets for civil rights, braving fire hoses and police dogs, but ultimately bringing segregation to its knees. The tangible result was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the crowning legislative achievements of the civil rights movement.

What compelled so many young people to become activists for social justice in that time? I believe it is the same thing that is inspiring the spirits of young people today.

“Young people are realizing that their voices matter. ... They will ensure that history never repeats itself.”

Demonstrations such as the school walkout and the national March For Our Lives show that young people can be catalysts for positive change now just as they were 50 years ago. When racial tensions rose on the campus of the University of Missouri in recent years, student athletes and scholars united in protest, prompting the administration to take action. Organizations like Black Youth Power 100 have arisen in the wake of police brutality against African-Americans to encourage young people to fight for their right to live. Youth are defying the odds and fulfilling their purpose, and they’re not letting something as trivial as age stand in their way.

I know firsthand that the journey toward empowerment and action can be tough. I took up the call to preach at the age of 5, just like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who also started preaching at a young age. The journey for me was tough. I experienced hardships and obstacles along the road to success ― ageism, envy, fear, negativity, toxic people, all things that face youth today. I did not have all the resources or guidance, and I definitely did not have all the answers, but I was confident that my current situation was not my final destination, that there was a greater purpose before me and within me.

Today I celebrate 16 years in the ministry and I am passing the baton. In July, I plan to gather young people in Atlanta, the birthplace of Dr. King, for a youth empowerment conference to help the next generation of leaders discover and drive their own purpose, to equip them with moral values and advance their social growth. As a millennial leader, a Baptist preacher and a student from Dr. King’s alma mater, Morehouse College, I stand in admiration of the next generation that has taken charge and is continuing the work of the previous generations.

“This generation is amazing because they are on the right side of history.”

April 4, 2018, will mark 50 years since King’s assassination. We know that it’s not easy and often dangerous to stand up for what you believe in. Many in power have tried to discredit and discourage young people from fighting for their rights and, like the marchers and activists before them, many of today’s youth are facing suspension, harassment and even jail time. Still, they are not deterred and they’re demanding to be heard and respected. Young people are realizing that their voices matter. Because of their bravery and tenacity, they will ensure that history never repeats itself.

The goal of the movement in the ’60s was to end racial segregation and discrimination against African-Americans. Today, the root of student and youth organizing is the same demand for fair and equal treatment, but it has expanded into areas such as poverty, environmental rights, labor laws, sexism, access to education, gun reform and even ageism.

Let us take heed of the eloquent young voices, armed with social media savoir-faire, who speak unscathed by fear and cynicism. In this critical moment, we must support them on their journey. Let us encourage them individually and believe that their voices collectively can make a difference. This generation is amazing because they are on the right side of history.

Young people, it’s time to raise your voices, expand your natural skills and achieve life transformations that push the boundaries of possibility. You can strengthen your faith, reach your potential and overcome the adversities in our world.

The legacy of Dr. King lives on in these young freedom fighters. The time is now to pick up the mantle, equip yourselves with purpose, and move from purpose to power.

Jared Sawyer Jr. is an actor, preacher and author of four books. His latest release is Empower Your Purpose: 7 Keys to Achieve Success and Fulfill Your Destiny.