It has been 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 yearsÖ since my friend and mentor, Medgar Evers, was assassinated. My whole life has been entwined with the civil rights struggle.
One of the major turning points was meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in San Francisco in 1956Ö when Evers brought me here as president of the Mississippi Youth Conference and a youth delegate to the 47th annual convention of the NAACP. This week, I am traveling to Washington to participate in the 50th anniversary of the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington. The president is honoring me and other civil rights pioneers at a reception at the White House.
< p>While segregation lasted for but a moment in history, the struggle for racial equality continues from one generation to the next. We should honor that struggle by looking at the stark reality of where we stand today. Fresh in my mind is the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.
Many view the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case as a blatant statement of injustice. President Obama said a few weeks ago local communities should do more to fight injustice. How can we do more?
To begin, we should take as our slogan, “Jobs, Justice and Jubilee.”
Jobs, because the unemployment rate nationwide for African Americans is in double digits, 12.6 percent. We must realize that many people cannot get jobs because they are not educated and they do not receive skills training. This breeds hopelessness.
Justice, because Blacks make up the majority of our state’s prison population. It is up to us, beginning in San Francisco, to devise measures to train our police department about racial sensitivity so that they will not profile African Americans. We need to rehabilitation programs that will bolster African Americans who are returning to the community after being released from prison.
A jubilee, because this commemoration of the March on Washington will ring hollow if we do not see it as a time to realize a jubilee in the spirit of Judeo-Christian hope of setting people free who are captives to oppression, bigotry and discrimination. This means releasing immigrants who are deserving of a just and fair immigration policy, which America must establish if she is to be true to the symbolism and meaning of the Statue of Liberty. And there must be jubilee for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people, who have lived in states of fear, hate and the denial of equal protection under the law.
When we do this, we shall move away from our battlegrounds, from “standing your ground,” to common ground.
The March on Washington was not just a gathering, a picnic or a field day. It was born out of a motivation to empower people economically so that they could build their communities — take care of their families, get an education and own a house. That was the vision of 1963. It must continue to be our vision until we create that “beloved community” my teacher Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life fighting for.
Amos C. Brown is the pastor of the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco and president of the San Francisco NAACP.