America is struggling.
Families strive to make ends meet while facing an uncertain economic future. The deterioration of our environment – rather than slowing – continues to gain speed. At a moment when we need every opportunity possible, climate change threatens the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable people at home and around the world.
We are all impacted by these hard times, but it is the historically disadvantaged – people of color and low-income communities – who find themselves at the point of the spear.
This challenge is the Civil Rights Movement’s unfinished business.
As we seek solutions and look for strength, it is fitting to turn to Dr. King and the movement he represented, a struggle for equality and justice.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s shifted the hearts, minds, and laws of our nation. The solutions to today’s challenge must be no less sweeping, and our movement no less powerful, righteous, or relentless.
For all of his strength and grace, Dr. King was also the face of a movement of tens of thousands of people who struggled daily for a better existence. Their work was not glamorous; their courage didn’t make the evening news. But these ordinary people, their ordinary battles, are what comprised the Civil Rights Movement – and what changed our nation.
We are not without heroes today, heroes whose leadership is often as moving as Dr. King’s. President Obama is an inspiration to a grassroots movement – people who do what they can to improve their communities and to help America live up to its promise. But as we honor President Obama for his leadership as we look towards the anniversary of his inauguration, we must look beyond the hero to the energy and solutions that power his inspiration.
Today, I want to tell you about another, less-acclaimed leader: Markese Bryant. Markese was born and raised in East Oakland. At the age of six, he lost his mother to the streets and his father to the prison system. Markese nearly met the same fate after being caught selling crack cocaine – but, given the opportunity, he enrolled in community college. There, he was inspired – learning from the Civil Rights Movement to build, not destroy. He learned the role he could play in his community.
Markese’s inspiration turned into action upon discovering the movement for a new, green economy. He learned about those bringing good jobs in the clean-energy economy to communities thirsting for opportunity. He read about solar power, urban gardening, and about energy-efficiency retrofits. He learned that these practical, almost mundane innovations have all of the glamour of riding the bus – but that these simple actions, like those of Rosa Parks, can shake the core of our society.
Markese is now organizing his campus and his community as a Green For All College Ambassador, talking about the opportunities presented by an inclusive green economy and, in doing so, helping to build a movement.
Markese, also a rapper, tells his story through his music. Today, he is releasing a video, in partnership with Green For All, that tells much better than I can the story of the people-powered movement for green-collar jobs – and how it builds on the legacy of Dr. King and the inspiration of President Obama.
Watch: The Dream Reborn (My President Is Green)
Dr. King’s legacy is thriving, as evidenced by Markese’s creativity. Yes, the solutions to our problems look a little different now. Dr. King did not know green-collar jobs or the clean-energy economy. But the principles of equality, justice and opportunity remain the same.
This movement – the movement started by Dr. King, reignited by President Obama and exemplified by Markese – is strong, and growing.