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Our loss of civil rights leaders


During the summer of 2020 the nation lost three civil rights greats-CT Vivian, John Lewis and Emma Sanders, all in their 80’s and 90’s. With each passing year and month, a generation of leaders in the movement for social justice and civil rights are leaving us. They have done their work, improved the nation, taught us much, and now are passing on.


As we lose them, left to fill the breach are the many civil rights beneficiaries like myself-baby boomers in their 60’s and 70’s who charged through the open doors kicked down by Vivian, Lewis, Sanders and so many others. The African American baby boomers, many too young at the time to join the Freedom Riders or walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. But we were certainly old enough to watch those historic events on television, hear about them in church, and talk to our families and peers about them. The results of their struggle to achieve justice made it possible for the African American baby boomer to attend colleges and universities heretofore denied based on their color alone; live in communities previously redlined and off limits, and attend public schools attempting to integrate. And we were the first generation to enter graduate schools in law, medicine, business; corporate America, and into senior roles in the non-profit/social sector in any significant number. Though not in the numbers desired, and proportionately low given the numbers experiencing poor economic conditions in Black communities across the country, many of us did ascend to leadership in our respective fields. We achieved positions of leadership in which we did have decision-making power, could provide employment and educational opportunity to others like ourselves; and could compel the institutions of America to do better.


As we have witnessed over the past several months, what is clear is that their work is not done; our work is not done. Our leaders have taken us so far, and now we must continue their work. The baby boomers are now on deck, and we must step up to lead from whichever perch we inhabit. Some of us are in charge in our organizations, public/private companies, practices, colleges/universities, and in government. Some of us are in the C-Suite with authority for institutional policies, practices, resource allocation and decision-making. It is a time like never before to Act-to as John Lewis told us “to get into good trouble”. Progress has given some of us the positions of leadership from which we can make some “trouble” and it is our responsibility to do so. Our tools today may be different; the law may be on our side in a different way today; and hopefully we have a newly awakened America to the real and pervasive discrimination at the hands of police and our other institutions experienced daily by African American men women and children.


We must seize the time, seize the reins and make our contribution!