A new generation takes up Martin Luther King Jr.'s torch (+video)
Fifty years after King's March on Washington, young civil rights activists push dreams of their own.
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Yet when he isn't preaching the gospel of hope, Green can be found at Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he is the NAACP student chapter president, registering people to vote along with student body president A.J. Simonton. Together, the duo registered more than 1,000 people last fall for the presidential election. This semester, they plan to continue their mission of making sure every student in Atlanta shows up at the polls.Skip to next paragraph
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It's an ambitious undertaking, helped by the close-knit community shared between students at Morehouse, nearby Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University – the three historically black colleges that make up the Atlanta University System.
During "hump day" social gatherings at Morehouse and "market Fridays" at Spelman, they carried iPads to register people online. They set up tables in the school cafeteria and knocked on doors in the suburbs, educating people about polling places and the importance of exercising their rights.
"Our predecessors went through real trials and tribulations to be able to exercise that right," Mr. Simonton says. "It's your vote. It's your voice. And if you don't vote, your voice isn't heard."
He tries to make them understand that voting for the president is not enough. They must also choose a Congress that will support him. Complacency is not an option.
"For some people, Obama is the realization of Dr. King's dream, and that provides apathy," Green says. "We cannot get to the point where having a black president in the White House allows this."
As for Simonton, an Indianapolis native, he admits he was "blessed" to come from a privileged background, with a father who is an engineer and a mother in the pharmaceutical industry. He attended a predominantly white, Jesuit high school, but when he graduated, he found himself asking what it meant to be a young black man in America.
He found the answer at King's alma mater, Morehouse, where he learned it was OK to live comfortably inside his own skin.
"I saw all these other students, many of whom I looked up to, and they were well dressed, well spoken, well traveled," he says. "They just embodied what I wanted to be."
But the Trayvon case has made him acutely aware that society still may determine his character by his color. Just as he and Green push voting as the path to freedom, he also sees law school and a future in public office as a way to confront inequalities in education and criminal justice.
"A lot of people in my generation think marching is outdated," he says. "I'm inclined to believe you have to use whatever your talents are to work toward achieving justice. Marching is important, but there are new ways."
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For the wired Millennials, the strongest tool in their arsenal is the understanding and manipulation of social media.
Twitter, in particular, has proved to be the go-to method for receiving news, discussing issues, and coordinating a response. With the use of a single hashtag, thousands of people can quickly share relevant information. The Dream Defenders have been communicating with Twitter and Instagram followers through the #TakeOverFL hashtag. Technology has helped unite young activists on a wide range of issues, not just racial problems in the US.
"The world is much smaller now, in great part because of technology," says Ms. Brooks of the Southern Poverty Law Center. "When young people are able to see that girls in Afghanistan are unable to receive an education because they are girls, it resonates with them."