During the last few years, from Trayvon Martin to Eric Garner's painful words of "I can't breathe", to Ferguson, to voting rights and more, we as a nation continue to deal with issues of race - and more specifically racial inequality - in the areas of criminal justice, voting, housing, education, health care and just about every area of life. In the last two weeks alone, National Action Network (NAN) and I have been contacted from people in Madison, Wisconsin about an unarmed teenager killed by police, from others about a student at the University of Virginia who was allegedly brutally beaten by cops and from folks concerned about Fort Lauderdale police officers who are accused of using racial slurs in text messages and making a troubling mock movie trailer. We were even contacted by reporters asking about Starbucks' recent campaign to engage in a conversation about race. But if memory serves me correctly, in 2008, when the first African American President was elected, it was widely heralded that we were somehow now in a 'post-racial' era. So much for that talking point.
Following the historic '08 election, William Bennett, a conservative pundit and former Republican Administration official, got on TV and said that the day of Al Sharpton is over and race is no longer a factor. Not only are we not post-racial (as many of us predicted), but those who continue to struggle against racial bias, both blatant and institutional, have not disappeared - and in many ways we have increased our workload. The fact is that we cannot deal with race via a strategy of societal denial; you only solve problems when you confront them. If we act as if something that is festering isn't there, it only grows and manifests itself in a multitude of ways. This is precisely why NAN continues the much needed work of raising awareness around issues of injustice, fighting on behalf of the voiceless and taking concrete action to eliminate the status quo and make our society more equitable. And this is why in about two weeks we will gather once again for our annual convention.
From April 8-11th, Administration officials, Cabinet members, civil rights leaders, journalists, community advocates, educators, actors, students, entertainers, every day citizens and a surprise guest or two will gather at the Sheraton New York for NAN's highly-anticipated conference. There will be plenary sessions and panels that will tackle everything from police brutality and homophobia to immigration and women's empowerment. There will be a NAN resource center that will conduct a job fair and free health care screenings. Thousands are registered and slated to attend as we once again bring together some of the greatest minds committed towards eliminating racial disparities and inequality across the board, and moving our nation forward. Please visit nationalactionnetwork.net for more information and to register.
Our convention will be followed by other national gatherings and events throughout the summer and the remainder of the year. We cannot in all honesty address racial and economic inequities without addressing all facets of society. Because yes, in 2015, we still have work to do. As I often say, we have progressed greatly as a country, but that does not mean we can rest for there are many challenges that remain. We must have legislation and policies in the private sector that address racial inequality. We must implement true reform in all areas and we must work to include all voices in the conversation. Just day dreaming about a post-racial America or demonizing those that have the courage to continue to make these issues a priority will only delay the inevitable.
We must make this country a nation of equal protection under the law with equal opportunity for everyone. If we truly would like to be post-racial one day, we cannot continue to live in denial, or turn a blind eye towards reality, or remain complacent today. It's as simple as that.