WASHINGTON — Mary-Pat Hector of Atlanta was operating much like a 1960s civil rights activist as she laid plans for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. She was constantly on the phone as she confirmed event details, tweaked the draft of the speech she gave at Saturday’s rally at the Lincoln Memorial and prepared for a presentation.
Mary-Pat is 15 years old.
Just as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led the Montgomery Bus Boycott at age 26, and Rep. John Lewis helped to lead freedom rides at 23, young Americans like Mary-Pat are not letting age get in the way as they seek more than a contributing role in the push for social reform.
Young people are eager to influence this year’s March on Washington, says Jessica Brown, national coordinator for the Black Youth Vote coalition, which organized several youth events around Saturday’s march to the Lincoln Memorial.
“Of course you have the seasoned people who are there, and they are always rightfully going to have their position,” Brown said. “But you’re starting to see the pickup of the youth saying, ‘This is our time, this is our moment, this is the opportunity we have to show the world and the nation, that we’re here and we’re ready to work and organize to get things done.”’
In 1963, those “seasoned people” were A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, who birthed the idea of a Washington march to appeal for jobs and justice, and ultimately attracted 250,000 people. Today, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III, who were 8 and 5 years old, respectively, in 1963, are the veterans who brought thousands to the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday. The King Center also has organized a ceremony on Wednesday, the actual march anniversary, when President Barack Obama will speak.