Our Voices

Renewing our commitment to civil rights and voting rights

By Kerry Kennedy and Martin Luther King III

As violence and racism – evidenced by the bomb threats received last month at Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the country – continue unabated, our frustration and anger at the continued ugliness of the “other America” King described plaguing Black and Brown Americans has reached a boiling point once more.

“Racism is still alive in American society, and much more widespread than we realize,” he said in 1967. “And we must see racism for what it is. It is a myth of the superior and the inferior race.”

Sixty-five years later, across the board, a separate and unequal way of life still persists in our country. This includes access to capital, homeownership, to educational opportunities and childcare. What’s more, available equalizers have, in the recent months, been taken away without recourse.

The all-important Voting Rights Act has been gutted by the Supreme Court through two key decisions in the last decade, and a recent contentious decision on a voting rights case from Alabama signals that a massive legal battle looms. What’s more, over the last year, 19 Republican-controlled states enshrined into law racist, antidemocratic voting measures, restricting voting hours and the availability of absentee ballots and creating stricter ID requirements, among other obstacles.

That’s why our organizations have renewed our commitment to working for the restoration of the voting rights protections that so many civil rights leaders have risked their lives to secure. The dream for a better, more just and equal world cannot continue to be a shiny, out of reach brass ring.

In recent weeks, on what would have been King’s 93rd birthday, our organizations together again marched in peace during the Deliver for Voting Rights march in Washington, calling on President Biden and Congress to end the filibuster and deliver on voting rights now.

Today, we have among us several who have become America’s new standard bearers, several of whom were Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ Ripple of Hope Laureates.

Political leader and entrepreneur Stacy Abrams has the ability to change the game for Black Americans, particularly Black women, in American politics, by breaking through conservative areas of the South which fuel a culture of systemic racism by voter suppression.

Poet Amanda Gorman has shown the world how simple and eloquent truth telling can harness the power of youth for good. Of what is possible in a new American era.

But these cannot be voices in the wilderness.

It’s up to all of us to continue to demand voting rights legislation now, and an end to the filibuster, an archaic legislative maneuver that’s been historically used to block popular bills to stop lynching, end poll taxes and fight workplace discrimination.

It is only when we approach equity and justice in a holistic and ambitious way Kennedy and King’s dreams can become a reality. The cause is not just for Biden, Abrams, Gorman and others in the spotlight. Change is made when everyday Americans join these campaigns, vote for these causes, and donate their time – and money to them.

This year, we must commit, together, to making the “other America” finally a thing of the past. To stay vigilant, to keep working, and in the words of Coretta Scott King, “to remember that the struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.”

In that knowledge, we know, our fathers dreams and ours are one and the same.

Kennedy is president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. King is co-founder and chairman of the Drum Major Institute and co-founder of Give Us The Ballot.