Civil rights allyship was largely based on faith. In local churches, synagogues and mosques people came to a shared understanding of suffering and salvation and heard the call of some religious leaders to join the fight for justice.
Faith, in its broadest sense, is still a common denominator among those who respond to that call; even Americans who do not identify with any particular creed are often moved to action by a deep-rooted belief that we are all bound together by our common humanity.
Today, as we continue the long struggle for racial equality in an increasingly polarized society, we must not forget that we have a proud tradition of allyship on which to draw. By openly celebrating the allies of the past, we inspire young people to follow their lead, we recognize the value of collaboration and we remind ourselves to cherish the allies of the present.
Such figures give us reason to hope for a better future; if every American can see themselves reflected in the movement for equality our ranks will surely continue to grow. But we must not take anybody’s ongoing support for granted. In these daunting times, we should redouble our efforts to build bridges between communities, not ditches. From school curriculums to policy documents, we must prioritize measures designed to help citizens from every racial, ethnic, political and economic group to find common ground. So much unites us. We all have fears. We all have dreams. We all love our children and our country and want to see both flourish.
Martin Luther King, Jr. made an unforgettable contribution to the March on Washington and to the policy successes that stemmed from it, but he was also part of not just the “Big Six,” but the diverse “Top Ten.” Today the fight for racial equality is once again led by a loose coalition of activist groups and their allies. The struggle now takes place online as well as on the streets and in the houses of Congress. We don’t need to wait for a lone prophetic voice to emerge. Whatever the color of our skin, gender or creed, if each one of us articulates our personal vision of justice, we will create a combined chorus that cannot be ignored. Our collective call for change will be more powerful than six, 10, or even 250,000 voices.
For what is more important than any number is the one thing we can never quantify, but that counts more than anything else — love.