By Lauren Legette
On Saturday, March 1, 2014, The New York Urban League Young Professionals (NYULYP) hosted their 4th Annual State of Young Black New York (SOYBNY) Conference – a dynamic one-day conference featuring global leaders from the non-profit, corporate, government, health, and public service sectors. This year’s SOYBNY program was about Policy in Black America: From a Moment to a Movement – a continuation of an article on Huffington Post, After the Protests: From a Moment to a Movement. In the article, Rice asks how do we move beyond outrage into action?
“How do we move the chants for justice into a consistent call for change? How do we draw the anger over the loss of one life into accountability for the loss of any life? How does the light of injustice over “Stand Your Ground” law in Orlando help illuminate a way to cease “Stop and Frisk” in New York? How does a child killed in the bathroom in the Bronx connect to a child killed on the streets with some skittles? How does a moment become a movement?”
The program opened with a moving selection from Cedric Neal who stars in the heart-pounding new musical After Midnight that brings the Harlem Jazz era to a new generation. “[After Midnight] proves that African Americans were and are kings, queens and dukes of elegance. We should have no apologies for being at the top of our game.”
Chapter President, Jemar T. Ward, addressed attendees, applauding them for taking part in the conversation on civic engagement, which is at the heart of the YP brand ethos. Ward also recognized distinguished guests in the audience including National YP President Brandi Richards.
Keynote speaker Michael Walrond, Pastor of First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, delivered a thought-provoking message on the process for effectively moving civic engagement from a moment to a movement. Walrond identified three important steps:
- Obtain A Passion for the Possible: In order to gain success and longevity in any effort, one must abolish the impossible. Truly believe that you are a world changer and do not let any lack of resources or past failures hinder your progress.
- Imagine And Create Ideas To Galvanize Thinking Outside The Box: Though civil rights activist Rosa Parks was known for her monumental decision to not give up her seat, she was not the first to confidently stand for justice. The call for a bus boycott following the incident with Parks escalated this moment in history. In order to generate change, you must be willing to go against the grain and do what’s never been done before.
- Passion And Hunger For Healing: The most successful civil engagement leaders have been those who are looking to heal and help others. Going from a movement to a movement cannot be hidden behind selfish desires for fame or recognition. It requires a true passion for healing and helping others. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, one must also recognize that you may not reap the benefits of the movement but understand that the overall motivation behind the movement is ultimate success and healing no matter how long it takes.
Following his speech, Reverend Michael Walrond, who is a candidate for Congress, sat down with The GRIOT to discuss this notion of going from a moment to a movement.
The GRIOT: What do you tell your children when innocent victims like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis do not receive proper justice?
Michael Walrond: One of the things I tell my children is not to let their lives be defined by people who can’t see them. You see so many of our children, whether they’re like Jordan Davis or Trayvon Martin, have their lives overlooked because people do not see them as active or engaged participants in this culture or this climate. But instead they see them as a category. Black man or black girl, they don’t see who they are. And the truth of the matter is that after all these years of fighting for justice there are still people who see us a certain way. So I tell my children do not be limited by the narrow constraints of the feeble-minded. Do not allow yourself to be defined by people who do not even see you.
The GRIOT: As a public service leader, what do you say to the community when major moments in history become moments of the past?
MW: Like the hoodies in support of Trayvon? I think that’s a deep groaning for people who want to belong to a movement. And what people forget is that to transform a moment to a movement takes sustained engagement. You can’t show up for the marches but then don’t want to volunteer at the schools. You can’t show up for the protest and then don’t want to volunteer to help people in the community. It goes hand–in–hand. And we’re so actionary that often times we forget the important step of being impactful in our communities in sustainable ways. When I was in college, it was Rodney King. We were marching and were upset. And then as soon as graduation came, people forgot about Rodney King, because people saw it as an activist moment versus a lifestyle of activism. A lifestyle of activism takes commitment.
Building on the discussions from earlier in the day, the conversation shifted to focus on public policy in government. Council Member Jumaane D. Williams and Michael Blake, Director of Public Policy at Green For All, participated in a panel discussion led by moderator Tara Dowdell on public policy in government. The question was posed, “What do you think of the “Black New York?”
“It depends on where you live.” Said Council Member Williams. “People think we live in a post racial society. And that’s just not true. In order to really thrive both in community and government, we’ve got to execute three things: (1) Understand that we are not there yet and that there’s work to be done; (2) Identify a plan in between the townhall meetings and panel discussions (3) Work together and develop a sense of true community.”
Michael Blake took a brief moment to chat with The GRIOT to expand on the discussion of public policy, government, and how young professionals should be involved.
The GRIOT: With minimum wage being so low, how do we level the playing field that everyone receive a fair chance at success regardless of circumstances?
Michael Blake: First thing is we need to make sure everyone has the skills to get the jobs that are available within the community. Second thing, how do we connect the work force to these individuals, generating awareness about these opportunities? And lastly, we have to make resources available to all neighborhoods. People with jobs are less likely to pick up guns and more likely to pick up a paycheck.
The GRIOT: Regarding public policy, what area should receive the most attention? What issue is the most pressing and groundbreaking?
MB: The threat on voting rights in this country is the most terrifying situation. It is a freedom that so many take for granted. Young people today truly need to direct their attention to the current state of voting rights in America and continue to exercise this right in EVERY election. It is so important.
Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights activist, television/radio talk show host, and founder of the National Action Network gave closing remarks reminding YPers of the importance of being actionable in the movement. “[You must be] loud enough to make laws – not just noise.”
The New York Urban League Young Professionals would like to thank the event’s sponsor NYU Research Center for Leadership in Action (RCLA). The Research Center for Leadership in Action (RCLA) at NYU Wagner works to deepen and diversify the pool of people assuming leadership on issues of public importance. As part of this mission, RCLA is home to the People of Color Leadership Network, which conducts leadership development programs, research and organizational capacity building to support the leadership of people of color who are serving as social change agents in their communities. For more information about our programs, please visit https://wagner.nyu.edu/leadership/leadership_dev/pocln.
About the Author, Lauren Legette