WASHINGTON—The National Action Network South Jersey Chapter joined thousands who converged on the National Mall on Saturday Aug. 26, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington.
NAN South Jersey Chapter President Steve Young organized a bus that left the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School complex in Atlantic City at 5 a.m. and returned to the resort at about 8 p.m. after a day of listening to inspiring speeches and absorbing the energy of like-minded people.
“We demonstrate to let everyone know what’s going on and we educate so people will know what to do,” said Young. “We negotiate and then we legislate.”
Young said the goal of civic engagement is to turn the things that people demonstrate to change into actual legislation.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network partnered with the King family’s Drum Major Institute to convene the march, which was billed as a continuation rather than a commemoration. Some 60 partner civil and human rights organizations also supported the march.
Dr. Thelma Witherspoon, pastor of the Westminister Christian Worship Center and host of the radio show “In the Community with Dr. Thelma Witherspoon” stressed the importance of staying involved.
“You’ve got to stay engaged,” said Witherspoon, “not just on a national level, but a municipal level.”
Witherspoon attended the 10th and 20th anniversary celebrations of the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famed “I have a Dream” speech in 1963.
“The substance was the same,” Witherspoon said. “It was great.”
Dr. Martin Luther King III spoke along with several other civil and human rights leaders.
(To see the march in its entirety watch the video below.)
Stephenine Dixon, who has worked on high profile Democratic campaigns around the country, also attended the march.
“The speeches were amazing,” Dixon said. “It was just powerful. It took you back to where it began.”
The original March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom brought about 250,000 people to the National Mall on Aug. 28, 1963, to protest segregation, demand voting rights and call attention to the high unemployment rate among African Americans.
The 60th Anniversary march comes just two months after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in higher education, and eroded LGBTQ+ rights. The march also comes approximately one year after the Supreme Court rolled back abortion rights protections long established through the Roe V. Wade decision.
“Black civil rights leaders have been steadfast in their fight to protect decades worth of rights won through organizing, marching and voting,” the National Action Network said in a prepared statement.
The NAN cited data from the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, FPWA, showing that Black and brown Americans still face significant challenges.
Unemployment among Black Americans remains twice as high when compared to white Americans, according to the FPWA, and 1 in 3 Black children live in poverty as a result.
The median wealth gap between Black and white households grew by $40,000 from $121,000 to $161,000 since the historic 1963 march. Student debt also contributes to the wealth gap, the NAN noted in its statement.
The Rev. Eric McCoy, founder and pastor of God is Reaching Out Ministries, of Atlantic City, said it was important for the Black church to be involved because historically that was the community’s only platform. While the march was good, the Black community has more work to do, McCoy said.
“We’re more educated but less powerful,” McCoy said “We got educated for them, not us.”
McCoy said that many people don’t build institutions to benefit their own communities, but rather work for legacy companies to pay off consumer debt.
“Everybody has benefited from our struggle but us,” McCoy said. “I don’t want to seem like a pessimist. But I’m a realist.”
Former Pleasantville Superintendent of Schools Dr. Natakie Chestnut-Lee who is now CEO of Sirius Education Services said her family has dedicated their lives to social justice.
“The 60th anniversary of the March on Washington was a significant historical moment that allowed us to reflect on the progress we've made in the fight for civil rights and social justice. It's essential for educators like myself to use this occasion as an opportunity to engage our youth in discussions about the ongoing struggles for equality and justice in our society,” Chestnut-Lee said. “The legacy of the march, the powerful speeches, and the determination of the activists serve as a reminder of the work that still needs to be done to create a more inclusive and equitable society. It's our responsibility to ensure that the lessons from this pivotal event are integrated into our curriculum and inspire the next generation to be active participants in the pursuit of a just and equal world.”
Chestnut-Lee’s daughter, who attends Howard University, organized students there. Her mother, a retired educator, also volunteered at the march.
“As a society, it is time for all to unite and stand together," Chestnut-Lee said. "This experience reinforced the importance of continued dialogue within my own family about the issues addressed during the March on Washington and the responsibility of each generation to carry the legacy of activism forward.”
Young said he was glad to see people representing different segments of the community attend the 60th Annivesary march.
“We had mind, body and soul,” Young said, “Mind with the educators, body with the young people and soul with the ministers.”
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