In the ever-evolving landscape of the fight for social justice, the passing of the baton from one generation to the next is an essential and intricate process. As the elders who have long championed the cause of equality and civil rights pass away, it becomes increasingly urgent to explore how this transition can be carried out effectively. Amid this transition, the Black community must grapple with the question of what the next generation of social activists will look like and how they can continue the marathon of social justice for the advancement of their community.
The importance of this generational transition cannot be overstated. The Black community has a long history of resilience and resistance, but it has also faced a long history of systemic oppression. The elders who fought for civil rights in the 1960s and 1970s made significant strides, but the battle is far from over. In fact, as recent events have shown, the fight for justice and equality is as relevant and pressing as ever.
It is vital to recognize that the mantle of social justice has often been passed from one generation to the next throughout history. The Civil Rights Movement, a defining era in American history, saw the rise of young, fearless leaders who catalyzed change. Names like John Lewis, Diane Nash, and Ruby Bridges come to the forefront, as they were young activists who played pivotal roles in pushing the movement forward.
John Lewis, who was just 25 years old when he helped lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), became a prominent figure known for his unwavering commitment to nonviolent protest and civil rights. Diane Nash, in her early twenties, organized sit-ins that desegregated lunch counters and was instrumental in founding the SNCC. Ruby Bridges, at the tender age of six, made history as she integrated William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, symbolizing the courage of the younger generation in the face of adversity.
These young leaders were not deterred by the immense challenges they faced. Instead, they understood that they were the vanguard of a movement much larger than themselves. Their courage, determination, and unwavering belief in justice reshaped the course of American history.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and we witness another historic movement led by young activists – the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. BLM emerged in response to the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and other unarmed Black individuals. It quickly gained momentum and visibility, with a significant portion of its leadership and participants being young people.
The BLM movement brought to the forefront the voices of young activists like Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, who co-founded the movement. It was also the passionate activism of young leaders like Tamika Mallory, who gained national prominence for her tireless work advocating for justice for Breonna Taylor. Furthermore, the movement inspired countless young people to join the fight against racial injustice, as they recognized the urgency and moral imperative of the cause.
As we reflect on these historical and contemporary examples, it becomes evident that the torchbearers of social justice have often been young activists who refused to accept the status quo. The younger generation has consistently pushed the boundaries of change, demonstrating that age is not a barrier to creating a more just and equitable society.
In the present moment, the call to action is more urgent than ever. As we confront the alarming threat of book bans, the removal of African American studies from our schools, and a myriad of other challenges that afflict the Black community, we stand at a critical crossroads. Now is the time when we must redouble our efforts and persist in the struggle for justice and equity. The very essence of our collective legacy is at stake, and the issues we face today demand our unwavering dedication and unyielding commitment to the cause. This brings one to ponder: Does the current moment serve as a stark reminder that activism has once again reached an unprecedented peak?
In the spirit of these young leaders who have gone before and those who continue to stand on the frontlines today, we must acknowledge the crucial role that youth play in the ongoing struggle for social justice. Their energy, creativity, and fearlessness serve as a driving force, pushing society toward a more inclusive and equitable future. The passing of the baton from one generation to the next remains a timeless tradition in the fight for justice, ensuring that the flame of hope and progress never wanes and that the legacy of the struggle endures.
“I think that once everyone came inside in 2021 because we had a year of people being outside rallying from 2020 to mid-2021 but once everyone came inside, I think young people realized how politics impacts their lives, they realized how laws impact their lives, and how corporate greed impacts their lives,” said Kimberly Jones, activist and best-selling author.
“So, I think people are under the impression that after mid-2021 that the rallying faded away and that there wasn’t any care anymore but that’s not true with young people. They have simply come inside the same way in which civil rights activist came inside in the previous movement and now they are working for non-profit organizations, they’re running for political office, and they are finding actions that they want to dig their teeth into and they’re working around it.”
Jones, a dynamic figure who gained prominence through her impactful speech in the aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic murder, embodies the essence of this transitional moment. She boldly stated, “When they killed Mike Brown, they essentially told us, ‘You’re free to go, but you don’t have a car.’” These words resonated deeply within the hearts of countless individuals because they encapsulated the enduring struggle for justice and equality faced by Black Americans. Jones serves as both a symbol and a beacon, reminding us of the urgent need to pass the baton to the next generation.
As Jones eloquently put it, “The world needed to see what was going on, and it needed to see the response to the terrorism that we as Black Americans have been dealing with forever.” Her words serve as a reminder that the struggle is not just about the past or the present; it is about creating a better future for generations to come.
“How we win is that we realize that the fight is local and not national. Even though these are national conversations they must be localized to be very streamlined and focused predominantly because that is where you have the most power and most leverage.”
So, what does the next generation of social activists look like? They look like passionate young individuals who have taken to the streets to protest racial injustice. They look like the students who demand changes in their schools’ curricula to include a more accurate and inclusive history of Black Americans. They look like the artists, writers, and musicians who use their creative talents to amplify the voices of the marginalized. They look like community organizers who work tirelessly to address issues such as police brutality, economic inequality, and voter suppression.
Jones believes that the next generation of social activists will look like compelled and passionate young people whose powerful words ignite a fire within many hearts. Jones continues her call to action by saying, “When I see corporations like Target say that they’re going to donate $10 million to social justice causes, I want to know, how much of it is going to Black folks? And what are the causes? Because if you’re just going to donate to, like, major corporations that just want to look good, that doesn’t count.”
“If we look at what the conservative party is doing we must acknowledge when your enemy is doing something smart so you can either combat it or replicate it – when you see these book bans, when you see bans of African- American studies, interesting bills like one that came out in Texas saying that there will be a misdemeanor if one chooses not to identify themselves in a traffic stop,” said Jones. “These are happening at the state and local levels; these are not national bills. What they realize is that it takes physical bodies to stand up and push back so it is time for us to realize that the trickle-down effect has never worked. Fighting at the big level and hoping that it will trickle down to you has never worked. That’s the whole beauty of grassroots organizing part of that is being local about it.”
Today’s young activists are not just seeking performative gestures of support; they are demanding substantive change. They understand that the fight for social justice is not about temporary fixes but about dismantling the deeply entrenched systems of oppression that have plagued the Black community for generations.
In the grand tapestry of history, the question that eternally echoes through the ages is this: If not us, then who? It is a question that transcends generations, urging each of us to recognize our individual and collective responsibility in the pursuit of justice and equity. When we witness injustice, when we confront inequality, when we stand at the precipice of change, it is this question that compels us to action, for it is in the hands and hearts of those who dare to ask and answer this question that the course of history is ultimately determined. The weight of our world’s challenges can be daunting, but the power of collective action is boundless. So, as we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and alongside the impassioned youth of today, we must remember that it is our actions, our choices, and our unwavering commitment that will shape the world we leave behind for future generations. If not us, then who?
As we reflect on the urgent need for change, we are reminded that the next generation of social activists looks like those who are unafraid to confront injustice head-on. They look like those who are willing to stand up and speak out, even in the face of adversity. They look like those who are determined to continue the marathon of social justice for the advancement of the Black community and for a more just and equitable world for all.
The passing of the baton from one generation of social activists to the next is a critical and complex process. It requires a delicate balance between preserving the wisdom of the elders and embracing the energy and fresh perspectives of the youth. It demands open dialogue, shared experiences, and a commitment to the long and challenging road ahead.