The image of the microphone being taken from the Rev. Jesse Jackson during the Black Friday Shutdown of Michigan Avenue had the local and national media abuzz. The moment seemed to be a symbolic “taking of the torch” from the civil rights generation by the millennial. Mainstream media has portrayed the situation as a struggle between the young and old, but upon further examination it seems as though it’s a much more complex situation that must be sorted out as the emerging Black political movement grows with each police murder.
The gains of the Civil Rights Generation and eventually the Black Nationalism movement created a sense “community hood, an era in which we consciously organized around the question of our collective power,” stated Dr. Conrad Worrill, of Northeastern Illinois University. “I was born a Negro, Generation X and Y was born Black,” he continues. “It was the Black Power Movement that shook up America on the question of our Black collective power. We have historical intergenerational discontinuity. This generation does not know what the previous generation did.”
That discontinuity has percolated locally under the surface for years and boiled finally over in front of a national audience during the Black Friday Shutdown of Michigan Avenue. Local community activists who had spent years claiming that civil rights leaders of the past only show up for the cameras, demanded that they get in line “with the rest of the community, not in front of it!” said Mark Carter, Community Activist at ONE Chicago. “We have to be on the same page, not just one person’s personal agenda.”
Carter, who established his role as one of Chicago’s leading Gen X community activists working with the ex-offender community, has been a long time detractor and antagonist for old-time civil rights leaders and preachers alike, often loudly voicing his displeasure with them in public settings. But despite long-term grievances with Jackson, even Carter recognizes that Blacks of different eras and generations must combine forces to combat the epidemic of police murder of innocent Black people in Chicago. Even so, Carter is very clear about the role he feels the civil rights generation must play.
“Those that have led the civil rights generation, it is time to move to an advisory role. It is time that the hip-hop generation takes responsibility for our children who are now out there on the front lines. We must mentor them into leadership side by side with us as their parents,” Carter says referring to the millennial that have taken to the streets in response constant flow police murders captured on tape.
Those millennial are the children of Gen X, the “hip-hop generation,” that by in large traded Black activism and nationalism for education and materialism. At the same time, the Gen Xers reaped the benefits of affirmative action programs that attempted to correct the wrongs highlighted by the civil rights and “Black nationalist movement’s work around organizing our collective Black power,” says Worrill. “The eradication of racial segregation under the law was a victory for our movement, but it had a flaw. We misunderstood integration and desegregation. As a result we stopped supporting our own institutions and rebuilding our interests on the basis of power. We had more political power with less elected officials.”
Which meant that a majority of the members of Gen X dropped their guards toward racism and focused on participating in a multicultural society. While multiculturalism began as a good thing, it eventually led to the dismantling of the advances of the civil rights and Black Nationalism movement. The result, the children of Black Gen Xers are back on the front lines, ironically marching for some of the same reasons their grandparents and great grandparents did before them.
As the city tries desperately to contain the powder keg being created by the continual murder of innocent Black people, Gen X leaders believe that it is important to take the reins and work with the millennial to determine the future of the Black community, while always reaching back to the elders for guidance and council. But make no mistake about it; the next generation of Black leaders believes their time is now.
“It’s too dangerous of a time for our young adults with limited experience and information to try and lead this alone. These are our children and so we understand them and their concerns. But we also know when we were young we thought we had it all figured out,” Carter reiterated.
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