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Opinion: The long road to justice

A call to action for my generation

Here in Kansas City, we’re celebrating the freedom of recently freed and exonerated Kevin Strickland. As he flipped the switch to light the mayor’s Christmas tree here in Kansas City, all I could think about was 43 years. Kevin Strickland sat in prison for a crime he didn’t commit for 43 years. After a summer of civil unrest through protest, policy change by the Missouri Legislature, and tireless work of the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, we finally get to this very moment where Kevin Strickland is waving his hand to a crowd here in Kansas City. But it shouldn’t have taken this long for Kevin Strickland to receive the justice he deserved. 

Justice Horn

Last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests were a wake-up call for the long-standing issue of racism and how it’s woven into the very fabric of this nation. I truly believe that some of our neighbors believed that racism left this earth when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. All across our nation, we marched for accountability, transparency, and a better public safety system that truly protects all of its people. The Kansas City community is unique in the situation we found ourselves in. Kansas City does not have local control over its own police department. Let me say that again, the city of Kansas City, Missouri, does not have any control over the Kansas City Police Department. Here in the state of Missouri, the governor appoints a five-member state-controlled board of police commissioners that governs the Kansas City Police Department. Civil Rights leaders and activists have worked to ensure that the commission reflects the community but are continuously met with resistance from the state of Missouri. Moreover, we marched last summer for local control of our police department, the resignation of KCPD Chief Rick Smith, and for our justice system to ensure that Black lives truly matter.

All across our nation, Black Lives Matter protests were being led by young people and young activists. We were able to do this because we are products of the greats who paved the wave for us, and we stand on the shoulders of those who came even before them. We protested injustices, called for accountability, and rallied against the current system that continues to fail a big portion of our community. We were protesting for Black Lives to truly Matter and for our policies to ensure they matter. That can only happen if we change policy, pass transformative laws, and usher in a new age of what public safety looks like in our country. Moreover, young people and young activists must run for office in our country to ensure the ideals we protest for are also policy. 

Young people and our generation of activists must run for office to ensure policy is enacted to deal with the root cause of the many issues we protest. From March for our Lives to Black Lives Matter to the Women’s March, we must run our generation for all levels of government. The current political system looks down on young people getting involved through comments that state how long we’ve been alive to “we should start out by being an intern.”

For us to ensure we’re successful, we must run young people and young activists just like we organize. We have to organize as a collective and run campaigns at the grassroots level. If you see someone step up who’s young, support them, and if you don’t see anyone like you, run. Just like any of the movements led by activists here in recent years, it doesn’t take just one person, but every single one of us to ensure we can enact an era of policy change that reflects our ideals. 

So, if you’re reading this — run. No matter what it is, it’s important that we get young people elected to all levels of government because change needs to happen at all levels of government. It’s long overdue we take our protest to the rooms where the laws are being made to then enact policies that ensure a future where we one day won’t have to protest. Until then, run for school board, run for county commission, run for state delegate, run for the state legislature, run for city council, and run wherever you feel transformative change needs to happen. After this summer’s protests, I learned the fact that those closest to the problem are those who are better skilled to enact the solution. We cannot wait; we must be the generation that enacts transformative policy that finally deals with the root cause of the many issues we protest for in our country. I truly believe that it will be our generation who will get this done.

We must get this done because I don’t want to be here in 43 years advocating for another man who was unjustly imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit because of the current system and policies we have in place today. I want us to never have another George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Eric Gardner, Sandra Bland, Dana Martin, Donnie Sanders, and Cameron Lamb. The road to justice is a long one, but it must be our generation who are the chief architects of that road. 

So, run.