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Activists, civil rights leaders seek racial equity

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No one woke up Memorial Day morning 2020 thinking their world was going to change.

No one imagined that one of the most momentous periods in the long quest for racial justice in America was about to begin.

And certainly numerous teenagers and young adults across the United States couldn’t know that events were about to thrust them into positions of leadership in their town or city.

Looking back a full year, to the thunderous reaction to the killing of George Floyd while he was restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020, is to gaze at the making of history, in real time, by hundreds of thousands of people of all backgrounds as they took to the streets and to Instagram to demand justice.

Yet within those crowds and behind all those Instagram Stories were individuals, young and old, who reached beyond themselves to speak up for the dignity of all the Black men mistreated by police and to press for racial equity in their own communities. 

Their words, their actions and their commitment spawned the USA TODAY Network’s Justice in My Town project, which since June 2020 has shone a spotlight in mid-sized and smaller communities on the people seeking racial progress and on what the path forward might look like.

One series of stories and videos last August elevated the voices of young activists, many of whom felt compelled by the horror of the Floyd killing to stand up and speak out.

Another series, last September, spoke to an older guard of civil rights leaders who remember the era of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and its aftermath, when America passed laws seeking equality yet failed to make the systemic changes needed to eradicate racism from policing, from housing and from the workplace.

Today, as the nation examines the progress it has made over the past year on racial equity and contemplates the yawning gaps that remain, Justice in My Town revisits several of the young activists and old guard civil rights leaders. We’ve asked them to assess whether or not the momentum for change has continued or slowed, and what their own plans are to continue the fight.

When Arlette Morales heads to college next year, she plans to continue to work for her own community, and fight for racial justice.

When Arlette Morales heads to college next year, she plans to continue to work for her own community, and fight for racial justice.
Paul Kuehnel, Paul Kuehnel

After George Floyd was killed, 17-year-old Arlette Morales of York, Pennsylvania, put out a call to action on Facebook, asking the community to gather and peacefully protest in York’s downtown. She wasn’t expecting a huge turnout, but she was hopeful that at least a few people would show interest. By the next day, over 700 people had RSVP’d.

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Source: GANNETT Syndication Service

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