This weekend, Americans from all walks of life descended upon the Washington Mall to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
At this historic event, hundreds of thousands of people traveled to the nation’s capital in support of civil and economic rights. The gathering is widely known for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s powerful “I have a dream” speech.
In his recently released book, “The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights,” William P. Jones reminds us that the 1963 March on Washington was not simply about Dr. King’s dream.
Led by iconic leaders such as A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin; civil rights, religious and other groups organized the event which attracted between 200,000 to 300,000 attendees.
In addition, The March on Washington serves as one of the greatest examples of collective action to advance the common good in our nation’s history.
While we reflect on this important milestone, it is important to remember that we continue to have access to the tools that made the March on Washington possible. With these tools, we have the ability to address current day problems in our communities.
These tools include philanthropic giving, volunteering and advocacy.
Individuals such as A.G. Gaston provided critical financial support to the civil rights movement, while organizers recruited volunteers who publicized the march, recruited participants, coordinated the buses and trains, provided the marshals, and set up and administered all of the logistic details of the event.
Today, all Americans have the opportunity to support numerous organizations that improve the quality of life in communities across the country. In 2010, 1.9 million Pennsylvanians (31 percent) filed itemized tax returns with over $5.8 billion in declared charitable donations, where the average contribution was $3,048.
On top of that, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, approximately 64.5 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2011 and September 2012. These volunteers offer their time and expertise to groups that improve social conditions and the well-being of those in need.
As Dr. King once noted “everyone can be great because everyone can serve.”
Finally, the March on Washington exemplified effective advocacy. The March highlighted the need for action on vital issues and is widely credited as the catalyst to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).
Today, we continue to have the opportunity to make difference. Our democracy is at its best when policymakers hear from citizens regarding important priorities such as Education, Income and Health.
As we celebrate this important anniversary, we should also utilize this moment to renew our commitment to civic engagement and advancing the common good.
Tony Ross is president, United Way of Pennsylvania, 909 Green Street, Harrisburg, PA 17102. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.