What Will Our Legacy Be?

African-Americans have a lot to reflect on as we enter 2013. January 1 marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the first significant step to end slavery in the United States. On January 21, we celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and inaugurated, for the second time, the nation's first African-American president.

This summer we will acknowledge the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom -- a watershed moment in the Civil Rights Movement and the event where Dr. King delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream Speech." This year many of us will look back in awe of how much we have accomplished as a community and as a nation to fulfill King's dream and honor the famous and unsung heroes who dared to challenge the status quo so that we would inherit a more fair and just society.

However, it's also a time to take a good look at the work that remains to be done and ask ourselves: What will our legacy be? There is no doubt in my mind that future generations will look back at what we are doing today and reflect on what we did, or did not accomplish, on their behalf.

These are conversations we have every day at the Chicago Urban League. From the Great Migration, to the Civil Rights Movement, to the Harold Washington era, to the age of Obama, the Urban League has been in the trenches, in the boardrooms, and in courtrooms speaking out on behalf of African Americans. We do this in collaboration with like-minded partners and community members who know what's at stake if we continue to accept failing schools, high incarceration rates, increased violence and shuttered black-owned businesses. But we can't do it alone.

Together, we must fight on behalf of our children, families, neighborhoods and businesses to ensure that our community taps into the opportunities that can lead to greater successes for our people. We can't be overwhelmed by the challenges we face. Instead, we must chip away at the barriers with deliberate and consistent actions that, in time, will make a significant impact.

While most of us will never be written about in history books, the legacy we leave behind will shape generations to come. We must be stewards of the upward mobility of African-Americans. Leaving a meaningful legacy starts with three key pillars: education, community building and service.

Just like our forbearers who fought relentlessly for us to have basic human rights, we must be relentless in our quest to ensure that all children have access to a good school and a quality education. Their future, and ours, depends on them being prepared to accept the opportunities of the future.

The safety and sustainability of our communities is essential to leaving a lasting legacy. We must connect ourselves with neighborhood groups that focus on reducing violence and promoting entrepreneurship and civic engagement. We must take an active role in strengthening our communities.

I'm a firm believer that being of service is one of the greatest ways you can build a legacy. Whether you volunteer at an organization that supports those in need, or become a mentor to someone on the same career path as you, giving of your time and talent is the best way to pay forward the sacrifices of those who came before us.

At the Chicago Urban League we want our legacy to be that we were committed to harnessing the power of opportunity by advocating for the African American-community. Every day we partner with those who share our vision, that a strong African-American community is a better Chicago and we want you to join us on this journey.

You can join the Chicago Urban League by signing up for our weekly eblasts, making an online contribution to support our programs or by participating in one of our free classes for entrepreneurs. You can also have your voice heard in February during our Black History Month Film Festival. The festival uses film and conversation to engage the community in honoring the achievements of African Americans, examining current community challenges and exploring strategic solutions that can lead to an empowered future. Complete information regarding the festival can be found on our website.

So, as we remember the anniversaries of key events that led to the freedoms we enjoy today, let us recommit ourselves to working harder and together to eliminate the barriers to equal opportunity that continue to plague our communities. We owe it to our ancestors and to our future generations to leave this world in better shape than the way we found it.