“This is not a moment, but a movement.” – Black Lives Matter Organization
While it is obvious to many of us that all lives matter, it is not so obvious that in our great nation founded on the principles of equality and justice that Black lives matter.
Young Black men are at 21 times greater risk than young white men of being shot dead by police officers, according to a ProPublica analysis of available federal data. New laws guided by the old strategies of voter suppression are aimed at reducing Black turnout at the polls. Sixty years after the groundbreaking Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that put an end to legal segregation in American public schools, the practice is greater now than it was then. And along with the resurgence of segregation comes an ever-widening achievement gap between white students and students of color. In our separate schools and classrooms, we find separate and unequal levels of achievement, and the separate and unequal distribution of resources necessary to narrow or eliminate the achievement gap. Despite our nation’s most sustained period of job creation since the devastation of the Great Recession, the Black unemployment rate is consistently twice that of their white peers.
When we say “Black lives matter,” we acknowledge that while our nation has made significant and important strides its journey to create a more perfect union—the scales of equality and justice are still not balanced for all.
The “Black Lives Matter” movement was created after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the tragic and avoidable death of Trayvon Martin. Since it’s creation, many more unarmed Black and Brown men and women have been killed at the hands of vigilantes and police officers. And, more often than not, their murderers are not held accountable. But if police tactics were the sparks that set off firestorms of outcry, protest and demands for change from New York to Missouri, and beyond, we know that seemingly intractable poverty, long-term joblessness and the pollution of hopelessness were the tinder. In our fight to save our cities, The National Urban League has—and will—continue to respond and shed light on the problems and inequities around education, jobs and justice, as well as offer what is needed most: solutions.
On the justice front, we presented our 10-Point Plan for Justice and Police Accountability to President Obama’s taskforce on 21st century policing. We are committed to being an active part of the solutions that move our nation to deliver on its promise of fair treatment by law enforcement for every American. We have also added our voice and proverbial muscle to the call that Congress hold hearings on the Voting Rights Advancement Act and commit itself to protecting all of our nation’s citizens against voter suppression. When it comes to jobs, we single-handedly put 16,000 people to work through our job-training programs. We also successfully advocated for key provisions that were ultimately included in the federal government’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Those provisions do the real work of training our workforce for 21st century jobs and connecting those employees with jobs that pay living wages. On the education front, we continued to battle for equity in educational outcomes and resources. Our multimedia campaign, “Put Our Children First,” strengthened our continued support for Common Core state standards. We are also advocating along with a variety of civil rights, social justice groups and business leaders to get Congress to re-authorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Fifty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson recognized that eliminating racial and economic disparities in education would play a critical role in building a more just society. Fifty years later, we are still fighting towards that goal.
If we, as a nation, are serious about our claim that all lives matter, it is paramount that we not only acknowledge the mounting disparities, but we begin to implement the solutions that open up opportunity and justice to marginalized communities—only then will all lives truly matter. The cry that “Black lives matter,” doesn’t mean that those are the only lives that matter in our country, it means Black lives matter, too. Our nation’s citizens must be offered equal access and opportunity to quality education, jobs with living wages and fair treatment under our nation’s system of justice for all lives to truly matter.
Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.