Today is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday (he would have been 87). Our campuses are closed in the states in honor of the holiday, which gives us a chance to reflect on his commitment to social justice and his legacy of activism.
Here at General Assembly (GA), we care a lot about diversity, inclusion, and community. Every week, we bring creators and thinkers together on our campuses to drive social impact and build a more diverse tech ecosystem. Our alumni found startups and nonprofits promoting social change. Our Opportunity Fund scholarship programs empower a new generation of diverse tech talent – over the last year and a half, General Assembly gave out $1.25 million in scholarships.
A lot has changed since the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, the Freedom Rides, and other landmark events of the Civil Rights Movement. Still, much work remains to combat racism, violence, and injustice.
It’s inspiring to see how today’s movements for racial justice draw on Dr. King’s legacy and use tech and social media to bring people together. Black Lives Matter, ColorOfChange, the Movement for Black Lives, and ColorLines leverage new tech tools to inspire activism, build community, and hold media accountable.
“Today, social media—particularly Twitter—can reach individuals throughout the nation and across the world in milliseconds, drastically slashing the time it takes to organize protests” (Dissent magazine). Phone cameras are the great equalizer. Tech giants, including Google, invest in tech solutions to advance racial justice.
I was curious to get some firsthand perspective on how much things have changed. My dad’s a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement and was a member of SNCC while he was in graduate school at Vanderbilt in the sixties.
I asked him about the new movements for social change, and how tools like Twitter have changed things. “It was something that didn’t exist then. But it allows people to have constructive public engagement on these issues.”
Back then, the goals were the same, but the tools were different. It was about building community and getting the word out. “It was universities and churches—places that were public gatherings – that would bring people together to get involved. You’d call people on the phone and go to public gatherings to inspire people to become participants.”
Activism was scary, and it still is today: “You knew you were putting yourself at risk. There were crowds gathering outside, taunting and yelling. The people working at the lunch counters were afraid themselves and unsure what to do—because of segregation laws being violated they didn’t want to serve anyway.”
Education communities were especially important. “The leaders made efforts to talk to students at colleges and universities throughout Nashville. They found a way to connect people, a team of students that would spread the word around that campus, and as soon as I heard about I wanted to be a part of it.”
It’s inspiring to see how new generations of activists are finding new ways to build community, get people involved, and push back against injustice. We’re proud of to be part of a global GA community that can play a small role in encouraging that spirit of innovation and collaboration. And we hope that you can find ways to get involved to make the world a better and more just place.
Tom is Director of Social Impact at General Assembly. See our latest updates on Tumblr.Follow us on Tumblr