Today’s anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom has left me feeling…hollow. While I celebrate how far our country has come in the past 50 years, I lament that most remember this as the anniversary of the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
America’s preoccupation with leaders and figureheads has done our nation a collective disservice. We remember the singular man while forgetting the awesome collective action it took for almost 300,000 people to reach Washington, DC that August.
The Civil Rights movement of the 60’s did not happen by one man’s words alone.
Change was brought about by thousands of people nationwide taking small and often dangerous stands in their daily lives. Sitting at a lunch counter, refusing to yield a seat, boycotting an entire bus system. Boycotts only work with a critical mass of people supporting them and none of these actions were enough to bring about change on their own.
For too long now have we wondered where our next great leader would come from. We as a people have been screaming out that something needs to be done, yet the problems seem so insurmountable that it’s scared folks into inaction. We have gnashed our teeth at the injustices of the world waiting for somebody to change things. Well, look in the mirror. You. Are. Somebody.
All across the nation, there are people taking time from their lives to make their communities better places to call home. Here in Baltimore, where crime has escalated not based on race, but as a product of poverty, isolation and hopelessness, neighbors are coming together to rebuild relationships. We are walking and praying in areas affected by drugs, murder and prostitution to show that it is everyone’s neighborhood, not just the ones with the biggest guns. Other parts of the city are having stoop sitting nights to ensure that their relatively safe, tight-knit communities stay that way.
Changing the world is as simple as spending an hour picking up trash or volunteering for a cause you care about. Has your alley light been on the fritz for the past 5 months? Call the city, ask your neighbors to call as well, talk to your neighborhood liaison and see what can be done. Is your local park frequently strewn with litter? Organize your neighbors to have a block clean-up day and see if the city will put out a trash can.
Feel like your neighborhood has gone too far downhill for the small changes to be effective? Work with community associations, business and government to host a Better Block so residents can envision a future with stores in the abandoned storefronts not junkies, a place where youth can be creative, not destructive. Once you start, you’ll be amazed at how many people will join in to put their shoulder to the wheel. Everyone is waiting for someone to speak first. Be the voice. See the change.
So get out there, make a difference. Plant a garden. Tutor a child. Resort to Slacktivism. Call your legislator when they’re doing something wrong or, more importantly, call them when they’re doing something right. Yes, you are one person, but our country cannot travel the many miles we have yet to go on the road to true equality without everyone pulling us forward an inch or two.