In Today’s Racial Protests, We Hear Echoes of 1968

Kerry Kennedy and John Rogers, Jr. offer five steps the business community can take to better the lives of Black Americans.


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5 steps the business community can take to better the lives of Black Americans

People gather at the end of the Poor People March on June 19, 1968, in Washington, D.C. AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

We were just children in 1968 when the deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy shattered our world.

It was then that the drumbeat, the commitment to equality and social justice, became firmly etched in our heads and our hearts, and it has remained there for the last 52 years.

Since then, we’ve worked, individually and collectively for a more just and peaceful world, seeing signs of progress as well as frequent setbacks.

Yet, the echoes of 1968 that we hear in the current protest movement are striking; the anger and rioting that King described so poignantly as “the language of the unheard.”

Today, two things have effectively coalesced to reinforce why we need comprehensive, holistic change if we are ever to achieve Kennedy and King’s visions of racial, economic and social justice.

The pandemic-induced public health crisis has put 40 million Americans out of work, a majority of whom are people of color. A recent study found that half of Black America is unemployed.

At the same time, the constant stream of unarmed Black people senselessly murdered by law enforcement has further illuminated the pervasive fear, violence and sense of hopeless anguish that is the reality of being Black in America today. Black and Brown Americans constitute an overwhelming percentage of the population in jails and prisons. But even if we fixed the criminal legal system overnight, without economic pathways for these communities to thrive, degradation will continue, unabated.

As King noted, “I cannot see how the Negro will totally be liberated from the crushing weight of poor education, squalid housing and economic strangulation until he is integrated, with