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Young Activists Take Center Stage at March on Washington

When the son of famed civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. took to the stage in Washington on Friday – 57 years after his father’s famous “I Have a Dream” address – he stepped aside for yet another King.“I am so honored to be here,” Martin Luther King III said while standing at the Lincoln Memorial. “But before I say something, I want you to hear from the future of our nation.”Wearing a bright teal headband and a black-and-white dress, 12-year-old Yolanda Renee King adjusted the microphone lower and glanced sideways at her father, smiling nervously.The younger King launched into her second major address to thousands of marchers in the U.S. capital. Her first was two years ago, at a rally against gun violence, organized by high school survivors of a mass shooting that drew hundreds of thousands to Washington.“Two years ago, at the March for Our Lives, I said, ‘Spread the word! Have you heard all across the nation, we’re going to be a great generation!’” Yolanda recalled. She called on young activists to be “the generation that dismantles systemic racism once and for all, now and forever.”Friday’s protest follows months of national unrest in response to recent deaths of Black Americans that are being questioned as racist. George Floyd died while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in May. More recently, Jacob Blake was shot by police August 23 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. In between, have been months of domestic and international protests.Floyd cried out as a police officer knelt on his neck, “I can’t breathe,” echoing Eric Garner, who died in New York City in 2014, gasping the same words.Friday’s Get Your Knee Off Our Necks Commitment March on Washington was organized largely by the Rev. Al Sharpton and the civil rights organization he founded in 1991, the National Action Network.But the event was a passing of the baton for some youth activists.“We are the great dreams of our grandparents, great grandparents and all our ancestors,” Yolanda said. “We stand and march for love, and we will fulfill my grandfather’s dream.”Sakira Coleman, the 23-year old co-founder of the activist group Until Freedom, told the BBC that she would attend Friday’s march, 57 years after her grandmother participated in the original march on Washington.People walk on Pennsylvania Avenue during the March on Washington, Aug. 28, 2020, on the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.“Being a part of something so historical in the present day, it does feel like those people who have been marching and fighting for so long are passing the mantle down to us,” Coleman said in a video published Thursday.Columbia University alum Nialah Edari, 25, is a co-founder of the activist group Freedom March NYC. At 15, she was already Midwest youth director for Sharpton’s National Action Network.“These movements have always been intergenerational,” Edari told the crowd Friday.“John Lewis was 23 years old when he marched,” she said, referencing the civil rights leader and congressman who died in July. Lewis was the youngest speaker at the 1963 march.Chelsea Miller, co-founder of Freedom March NYC with Edari, warned the crowd against underestimating youth activists.“We may be young, but we are a force,” said Miller, 23, also a Columbia graduate. “We may be young, but we stand on the shoulders of giants. We may be young, but we are organized, we are strategized, and we will show up in November to the polls, and we will let them know that we are not going anywhere.”March speakers young and old advocated for the passage of a voting rights act named after Lewis, alongside policing legislation named for Floyd. Speakers also called on attendees to vote in the November presidential election that pits President Donald Trump against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.Republican youth leaders criticized demonstrations Thursday evening in which protesters cornered Republican Senator Rand Paul.“They’re just peacefully protesting” screams the leftist media as a Senator is chased back to his hotel. pic.twitter.com/mwPEwXqDOF— Students For Trump (@TrumpStudents) August 28, 2020“These violent protestors [sic] you saw harassing @realDonaldTrump supporters leaving the White House last night didn’t want answers,” tweeted youth group Students for Trump on Friday. “They want compliance and obedience. We will never bend the knee to the mob.”These violent protestors you saw harassing @realDonaldTrump supporters leaving the White House last night didn’t want answers. They want compliance and obedience.We will never bend the knee to the mob.— Students For Trump (@TrumpStudents) August 28, 2020Thousands of people attended the peaceful march Friday, with many young activists among them.Mother Jones senior fellow Matt Cohen tweeted an image of demonstrator Hailee, 13, who carried a sign with an image of herself from seven years ago at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.“Ever since I was a little girl I’ve been marching, and it’s a shame to have to march for the same reasons again and again,” Hailee told Cohen.Hailee, 13, from Glen Burnie, Md. holds up a sign of herself as a little girl at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, seven years ago. “Ever since I was a little girl i’ve been marching and it’s a shame to have to march for the same reasons again and again,” she says. pic.twitter.com/Osn3bSisa8— Matt Cohen (@Matt_D_Cohen) August 28, 2020Until Freedom activist Coleman, like Hailee, appeared to anticipate a long-term movement.“We may not see justice and what that looks like in our generation, but we still fight regardless,” she said. 

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