After 2020, activists chart course for Black America’s progress

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After 2020, activists chart course for Black America's progress


The arc of Timuel Black Jr.’s life is long, covering most of the 20th century and all we’ve seen of the 21st. Along the way, the 102-year-old labor organizer, educator, author and freedom fighter has witnessed pivotal events in American and African American history.

As an infant, he survived the 1918 influenza pandemic. He was part of the Great Migration, which brought his family north from Alabama to Chicago. As an Army soldier in World War II, he battled both Hitler abroad and segregation at home. During the civil rights movement, he led a contingent to the 1963 March on Washington.

Today, he counts former president Barack Obama as a protege, supports the Black Lives Matter movement and is experiencing another pandemic, COVID-19.

“Though the struggle goes on, I am encouraged by younger generations, in particular, across races and gender,” Black told USA TODAY in a phone interview. “They’re fighting to make things better economically, socially, politically for everyone, not just for themselves.”

The country is grappling with concurrent crises that have disproportionately shaken Black Americans: COVID-19, economic instability and resurgent racism.

Four years of a White House occupied by former President Donald Trump emboldened bigotry, exposing deep racial divides and simmering resentment. The 2020 police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others ignited nationwide and global protests. In a nation already devastated by a deadly coronavirus with no cure, the racial unrest felt like “a match dropped into a powder keg of grief,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League.

Former NFL player Tyrone Carter speaks at the George Floyd memorial site at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue on Wednesday, June 3, 2020.
Former NFL player Tyrone Carter passionately speaks at the George Floyd memorial site at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. George Floyd died at this location in Minneapolis police custody on May 25, 2020.
Former NFL player Tyrone Carter passionately speaks at the George Floyd memorial site at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. George Floyd died at this location in Minneapolis police custody on May 25, 2020.
Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

The powder keg exploded on Jan. 6, when a mostly white, male mob stormed the U.S. Capitol building to protest the election of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer.

Trump had riled up supporters that day by again claiming without evidence that the election had been stolen, and he urged them to march to the Capitol to try to stop the electoral votes from being counted. Trump was impeached – for the second time – for inciting the mob. Yet many believe this chapter does not end with Trump’s exit from office.

“He is a symptom, not the cause. If we do not find a path forward that goes beyond consequences for just one man, this can and will happen again,” said Quentin James, president of The Collective PAC, which works to elect and politically empower African Americans. “The rhetoric, often racist and hateful, that encouraged the participants in the attack will not just go away.”

Clearly America and its 328 million Black Americans are at a critical inflection point. What’s next to propel an agenda of progress?

Despite its difficulties, 2020 was a year of “remarkable progress” in the fight for racial equity, Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter. “The challenges affecting Black America became the biggest issues on the presidential ballot for the first time in modern history. And Southern Black voters made history with unprecedented turnout at the polls, largely driven by demands to see changes in their communities,”  he said.

Co-founder LaTosha Brown added: “We’ve achieved so much in the past year because of our voting power, and now we must continue to build and maintain that power.”

Indeed, years of Black grassroots organizing, the Black Lives Matter movement, and multiracial coalitions sparked record-breaking Black turnout that set the stage for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s historic victory over Trumpism, and the election of Raphael Warnock to the U.S. Senate from Georgia.

“The win unlocks the full possibility of the restorative and transformational agenda that Black voters and organizers worked for in November,” said Arisha Hatch, executive director of Color Of Change PAC. “This improbable and hard-won victory will allow President-elect Biden to pursue the agenda he laid forth in his victory speech, one that centers the needs of Black communities.”


Dawleh Ahmed, left center, and Naji Ahmed, far left, wait in line to vote at Salina Elementary School on Nov. 3, 2020 in Dearborn, Mich.
Dawleh Ahmed, left center, and Naji Ahmed, far left, wait in line to vote at Salina Elementary School on Nov. 3, 2020 in Dearborn, Mich.
Antranik Tavitian, Detroit Free Press-USA TODAY Network

To move forward, healing must commence, said Rev. Al Sharpton, President/Founder of the National Action Network. But first, “the injured parties” require a seat at the table. “You can’t have this discussion without African Americans, given all the ills we’ve suffered as a people. Progressives and conservatives must speak to us, not for us. They don’t know what we need.”

Sharpton was among seven civil rights leaders who met with Biden and Harris in December. Also participating were leaders from the NAACP, the Urban League, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.



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