Tomorrow is our future, but yesterday is our history. Neither event is as far away from who and where we are right now as we may think. As we celebrate Black History Month, we need to remember that each one of us can affect that history for the betterment of all simply by doing our part to shape the future.
As a child during the civil rights movement, I recall my family was deeply woven into the fabric of our community and the revolution was very real to me. I knew I had a responsibility to stand up for black rights because that was the example put on display for our family to follow. It was commonplace for the children in our family to overhear conversations about the issues black folk faced throughout the United States. Many civil rights leaders at the time sat in my home having conversations, planning and strategizing. They didn’t come to – or even through – Detroit without visiting with my uncle, the Rev. Albert Cleage Jr., one of Detroit’s most respected leaders at the forefront of the movement. As a matter of fact, it was my father, Dr. E. Warren Evans, who treated Malcolm X right here in Detroit before he delivered his final public speech on Feb. 18, 1965.
I recall when he co-organized the historic Walk to Freedom March together with the Rev. C.L. Franklin down Woodward Avenue, led by Dr. King who delivered the first version of his historic I Have A Dream speech at Cobo Hall on June 24, 1963. Over 100,000 people organized, walked and rallied to speak out against segregation and brutality in the South and to demand equality in pay, education, and housing in the North. So I speak with authority when I say that I know from whence we came.
Those events had quite an impact on me growing up and who I am today.
While we are blessed to live in a time when so many positive things are taking place, it is imperative that we guide and mentor our youth as they chart their own course. The lessons I learned growing up help me pick my path. Access is a blessing, but as with all things it requires a clear direction. For every positive role model like Colin Kaepernick, who inspired a movement for justice by simply taking a knee, and Angela Rye, the young white woman who was killed during an anti-racism demonstration in Charlottesville last year, there is always a negative distraction in place to knock our youth off course.
Part of the reason I became a public servant was to help our community have a safe and healthy environment in which to thrive and prosper. These are the same goals that were pursued by my father and my uncle. We are in a time where the energy for activism is recharged and our community is ready to move forward. We must take advantage of this opportunity offered to us by this heightened level of engagement we are seeing all around us, especially with our young people whose passion and idealism often gives them an energy and a fearlessness that too often fades out with time as the realities of life take its toll down the road.
We create our own history, and it is our collective responsibility to live our lives in such a way that the history of tomorrow will be brighter for all of our children, and their children, to look back upon with pride.