“It’s never too late to act. There’s always time to make your voice heard and to do something, even if it’s a small thing—especially if it’s a small thing. That’s the best place to start.”
— Indigo Bishop, ioby Cleveland Action Strategist, in ioby’s new Racial Justice Toolkit
Fifty years ago today, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Commemorations are taking place across the country to honor his vision and achievements, from panel discussions to walking tours to the symbolic ringing of church bells. The anniversary of Dr. King’s tragic death can serve to remind us of how real the challenges to racial equity movements can be.
At the same time, today is a good opportunity to consider the less-publicized people and actions that laid the groundwork for some of King’s most influential work. For example, he was only 26 when he helped lead the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott—but an even younger person, a female person!, precipitated it.
Nearly a year before Rosa Parks’ famous refusal to give up her seat for a white passenger, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin boarded a city bus home from her high school, and was ordered by the driver to go to the back. When she refused, she was handcuffed by two police officers, verbally assaulted, and locked up in city jail. Her pastor, the Reverend H.H. Johnson, paid her bail and told her as he drove her home: “I’m so proud of you. Everyone prays for freedom. We’ve all been praying and praying. But you’re different—you want your answer the next morning. And I think you just brought the revolution to Montgomery.”
M. Carmen Lane, leader of ATNSC: Center for Healing & Creative Leadership in Cleveland, one of the contributors to ioby’s new Racial Justice Toolkit
At ioby, we are proud and humbled to work every day with local leaders who are acting in the small, deliberate ways that bring great change. These are people who don’t wait around — they want their answer the next morning.
Today, as we take stock of Dr. King’s legacy and the great movements of the past, we also want to acknowledge the small, local-but-no-less-radical movements and actions of the racial justice leaders in our own communities. What can we do as community members to identify, face, and dispel racial injustices where we live? What lessons can we carry forward from the past, and what can we learn from the present work of the people around us?
Some of the participants of Design as Protest: Day of Action, one of the projects profiled in ioby’s new Racial Justice Toolkit
We think the courageous, passionate and dedicated racial justice leaders in our own communities can teach us a lot about how movements are made — so we wanted them to tell their own stories in their own voices. That’s the idea behind our new Racial Justice Toolkit, a collection of videos, interviews, advice, and resources drawn from the shared experiences of six racial justice organizers in Cleveland, Ohio and designed to help anyone take action for equity where they live.
Rather than offer their individual projects as models to copy, we want to offer the wisdom of these leaders as a primer for individuals and groups who are just starting their work around racial justice and healing. While each community’s approach will vary based on its own needs and assets, we hope these materials might provide a helpful starting point, a key insight, or simply a boost of encouragement.
Participants in the Bridge That Bridges project, featured in the Racial Justice Tookit
For the next few months, we’ll be posting more about the world of racial justice work from the perspectives of these and other activists based in Cleveland—a city with a robust racial justice movement rooted in many decades of history, and one that’s growing stronger by the year.
We hope you’ll learn along with us as we support local racial justice organizers nationwide. In the meantime, if you have an idea to bring positive change to your community—even, or especially, if it’s small!—we’d love to help. Tell us about it.