It was over the summer of 2020, as hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets following the murder of George Floyd—and too many other Black men, women, and youths—that Harry E. Johnson Sr. knew it was time. Time to hand off the movement to a new generation.
“We were in Houston last summer, and my daughter and my two sons, they ask me, ‘Hey dad, there's a march going on downtown. Are you going?’ And I told them, ‘No, I'm not going, but you all should go,’” said Johnson Sr., president and CEO of the MLK Memorial Foundation.
He told his children: “Look, I have been there, done that. This is about you all taking the baton and moving it forward.” But to hand off that baton, they needed to be ready.
That is where his idea—the Memorial Foundation's Social Justice Fellows Program—was born. The fellowship is a free, virtual series of lectures, mentorships, and one-on-one meetings with some of today’s leading voices on social justice including Alicia Garza, Bakari Sellers, Angela Rye, and Roland S. Martin among others. Over the eight-week program, 50 fellows, ages 18 to 35, will focus on advocacy, community organizing, and public policy. They will also just soak in and learn from the experience and everyone assembled.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is supporting the Memorial Foundation's Social Justice Fellows Program by providing participants with free training and certification in cloud and STEM training. AWS is also providing mentorship opportunities—which is where you come in.
Johnson Sr. is looking for people around the world to bring their commitment, ideas, and energy to push forward the fight for social justice. In every place. For everyone.
We can't change the whole world, but we can help influence 50 people at a time each year. And then 50 more, and they reach out to another 100, and another thousand, and it grows from there. And then we have change, then we have social justice, not for some, but for everyone.
“We want to talk to young energetic leaders,” Johnson Sr. said. “Whether they led a march, whether they work for a corporation, whether they work for a nonprofit, whether they're in ministry, or they're in college.
“We love the fact that you protest. We love the fact that you carried signs and that you marched, but how do you take that protest and turn it into policy? How do you actually take whatever you believe needs to be changed, and make that change? How do you take it from your community, to the state level, the federal level, and around the world?”
How do you do it? Start by applying for the fellowship.
“For me, social justice is simple,” said Johnson Sr. “It’s like my mother used to say, you treat people the way you want to be treated. If you do that, you're not going to look down upon anybody.”
And you're going to make sure that everybody is treated fairly. That you give everybody a fair shot. No one is beneath you. You are my equal, whether in politics, in the workplace, in a restaurant, whatever the context, I'm not going to treat you any other way, he said.
“Are we going to change the world with 50 people? No, we can't change the whole world, but we can help influence 50 people at a time each year. And then 50 more, and they reach out to another 100, and another thousand, and it grows from there. And then we have change, then we have social justice, not for some, but for everyone.”
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