Meeting the moment: Why 2020 won’t be like 1968

No one could have predicted what has unfolded in 2020. A global pandemic brought the world to a standstill and the last eight minutes and forty-six seconds of George Floyd’s life got us back on our feet again, more determined than ever to fight for justice, equality and freedom.

The uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement has seen a renewed sense of urgency to finally address the original sin of our nation and make the promise of this land real for Black Americans.

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Black Lives Matter protestors peacefully assemble in solidarity, 2020.

While we have made progress along the way, our work is not done. To overcome more than 400 years’ of systemic racism, first embedded in our founding documents, it’s going to take a new generation of honest, intentional, compassionate leadership to achieve our potential.

Right now this country is at a turning point. With less than a week to decide who will be the next President of the United States, we must keep the past, present and future in mind. Who we elect and how we respond will be felt for generations.

To fully understand the significance of this moment and ensure we don’t make the same mistakes, we must reflect on our history.

We’ve been at this crossroads before. The Civil Rights movement in the ’60s reached a critical inflection point after the ‘long hot summer’ of race riots in 1967. To examine the underlying causes of the riots, President Lyndon Johnson launched the Kerner Commission. Following an investigation, the Commission released the Kerner Report.

And the truth is, they knew then what we know now — the root cause of poverty and inequity is systemic racism and nothing is going to change until we truly confront that.

After months of civil unrest, racial tensions reached boiling point following the assassination of Dr King in April 1968. Protests broke out in more than 100 American cities and neighborhoods burned.

Later that year Cleveland was at the center of the Glenville riots ignited by a shootout between police and the community. What happened here, happened all across America. Our city became a microcosm of the country, and for better or worse — we remain a model of systemic failures and boundless potential — because Cleveland is America.

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Police raid at Esquire Hotel, 10602 Superior Ave. Source: Cleveland Memory Project — Cleveland Press Collection

I believe we missed the moment in 1968 and we can’t afford for history to repeat itself. Outcomes have not improved for people of color in more than half a century. Black homeownership is at a 50 year-low, income inequality is at its highest levels and the consequences of redlining outlawed by the Fair Housing Act in 1968 remain.

In Cleveland, we’re on the top and bottom of every list — the poorest big city in the country, the least connected and the worst place in America to be a Black woman.

Today, we are just as far away from that perfect union that our Founders wrote about, and we’ve waited long enough for change to come.

In the words of Dr King, we need a ‘fierce urgency of now’ to bring about the Third Reconstruction of America.

Outrage to the killings of Black lives and a failed criminal justice system are not new. But unlike 1968, now we are joined by an unprecedented number of our white brothers and sisters in shared pain and protest.

Since George Floyd’s death, we’ve seen solidarity from the sidewalk to the boardroom. Earlier this year, Fortune 100 companies committed $3.3 billion to fight racism and inequality and in October, JPMorgan made the biggest pledge, announcing a further $30 billion over the next five years to advance racial equality, with a focus on creating economic opportunity for Black and LatinX communities. The scale of these investments are unlike anything we’ve ever seen and now there is growing recognition that economic equality and racial equality are deeply connected. We can’t have one without the other.

If this moment only comes once every fifty years — we must be honest about the problems ahead of us and galvanize this sense of solidarity and urgency to advance the pace of change.

My 91-year-old grandma Sarah who came up from the South, is tired of waiting. My mom who grew up in the ’60s, is tired of waiting. And I can’t wait. Cleveland is a city full of promise and if we’re going to bend the arc of history toward justice, we must not be patient.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that no one can predict the future. But we can elect competent leaders. Leaders who are impatient with the pace of change and will no longer accept the status quo. We can and we must — because Cleveland can’t wait and the nation can’t wait.

Written by

Proud native son of Cleveland, OH. Chief Strategy Officer at Urbanova, Founder of #CLECantWait. Passionate about cities, entrepreneurship, and social justice.

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