When Common and I wrote the song "Glory" for the stunning new film Selma, we drew inspiration from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his contemporaries who strived and sacrificed to achieve racial equality in the face of seemingly hopeless odds. As I watched the final version of Selma, I did so with the backdrop of the streets of many of our major cities filled with protesters, crying out for justice after yet another unarmed black person's life was taken by the police with impunity. After the events of the past few weeks, in Ferguson, Mo.; Staten Island; Phoenix; and Cleveland, things feel eerily the same. While it is important to recognize and acknowledge racial progress through the years, it is also clear that we are far from King's dream of equality and justice for all.
Slavery ended 150 years ago. The most egregious elements of Jim Crow were deemed illegal 50 years ago. But the problems of structural racism are old and ongoing. We still have a huge wealth gap rooted in decades of job, wage and housing discrimination. Voting restrictions that disproportionately affect the poor, minorities and youth are in place and growing. A persistent gap between black and white student achievement points to an education system that fails to provide a ladder of opportunity for everyone. African-American communities are being crushed by a criminal justice system that over-polices us, over-arrests us, over-incarcerates us and disproportionately takes the lives of our unarmed youth because of the simple fact that our skin, our blackness, conjures the myth of a hyper-violent negro.