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As America marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, there is one fact that cannot be disputed—there has been progress in the last five decades.

But where the debate lies is has the progress been adequate?

On one hand, there is an African American running the nation; something unimaginable 400 years ago, Blacks in the country were considered only three-fifths of a human. There are thousands of Black folks leading city, county and state governments; and segregation and discrimination are no longer the law of the land.

On the other hand, some activists note that unemployment among Blacks is worst today than in 1963 (12.6 vs. 10.9 percent); the incarceration rate of Black men is off the chart—according to The Sentencing Project, almost one in three (32.2 percent) young Black men in the age group 20-29 is under criminal justice supervision on any given day—in prison or jail, on probation or parole.

Additionally, many of the gains made during the civil rights era are being slowly and insidiously sliced away.

Consequently, the celebrations are also serving as a reminder for people to stop and take a look at just how much progress has been made and is yet to be made.

During the one of the major commemorations held Saturday in Washington, D.C., Rev. K.W. Tulloss, pastor of L.A.’s historic Weller Street Missionary Baptist Church said he was humbled to be invited to be one of 60 speakers participating in a commemoration that retraced the steps of the 1963 march.

“It was surreal to stand before people and look at the Lincoln Monument seeing thousands of people there committed and ready to fight on. Thousands of busses pulling into the stadium, and people walking to the park; watching the monument fill up,” added the pastor, who described the day as warm, sunny and filled with electricity.

Tulloss said he also thought about standing in the same place as a young Southern minister who went on to make what would go down as a historic address; the two were also nearly the same age—King was 34 years old on that August day; Tulloss today is 35.)

“I was honored to be invited to be on the same program with all these legends,” added Tulloss, who joined speakers such as Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga., the last living 1963 speaker; Rev. Jesse Jackson; Julian Bond, and the Rev. Joseph Lowery.

In his two-minute speech, Tulloss addressed the blessings and the blows that African Americans face today. “The blows when it comes to violence like the Trayvon Martin murder; the Voter Rights Act being stripped down; and immigration. The blows of African Americans being the last hired and the first fired, and unemployment numbers that are so dismal.”

The blessings, said Tulloss, include still being here, still standing united today and committed to organizing and mobilizing the community for change.

What particularly pleased Tulloss about participating in the D.C. commemoration was the fact that an agenda was set.

“What we need to do is organize and mobilize the community to continue progress and struggle for change.”

That includes registering people to vote and pushing back against legislation that is racially targeted.

Leon Jenkins, head of the Los Angeles Chapter of the NAACP describes his experience in Washington, D.C., this way: “I was very young during the initial march on Washington in 1963, living in the deep south.

“Even though I did not attend the march, over the years seeing footage of the march, and Dr. King, John Lewis, Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph and others speaking in 1963, I felt as if I was a part of the event. I was certainly a beneficiary of the movement being the first in my family to attend college, graduate school, and then law school.

“I grew up always feeling I owed those who participated in that ’63 march a show of gratitude, a hug, and a thank you. So, when I learned that there would be a 50th anniversary March on Washington, I knew I had to go. It was finally my chance to give thanks and praise to those who traveled through nights and days from all over the country to be a part of history.

“(In 1963) Many traveled without being able to stop at hotels or motels along the way, because these establishments did not serve African Americans. Most had to carry enough food, water and supplies, because “Negroes” were not served at many of the diners along the road. Some of the gas stations and rest stops had no place for us to rest or relieve ourselves. Yet 250,000 of us made our way to the largest march on Washington the country had ever seen.

“Fifty years later I am here, and unlike the first generation of the march I had all the comfort of a five-hour flight from Los Angeles to Washington, DC. I could buy food, use the rest facilities, and sleep with both eyes closed on my trip to D.C., knowing that I would not be spit on, dragged off the bus, injured, beaten, or kidnapped and murdered.

“On August 24, 2013, as I took my first steps from the Smithsonian Museum toward the Lincoln Monument, I could not help but feel the souls of the past, whose footsteps I was walking in, and the voices that sang, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and many other old Negro spirituals. As I got closer to the Lincoln Monument my knees begin to buckle, my eyes teared up, my mind became clear, and my spirit lifted, and as I glazed up at the most perfect day I had seen in years I had a vision that my son will not have to come to the 100th anniversary of the March on Washington, because ‘America the Beautiful’ would have lived up to its name.”

In Los Angeles during a commemoration that happened simultaneously with the one in the nation’s capital, Lola Smallwood Cuevas, head of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center was particularly struck by how salient this 50th anniversary of a March for Jobs and Freedom is, given the struggle that African American workers in Los Angeles are facing.

“In some ways, it’s bittersweet to reach this milestone. On one hand you think about the contributions of the Black movement and Black people to completely transform the nation into a nation that could elect the first Black president; that could have the first African American female astronaut; that could create a society where we support one another through programs that feed the hungry, and house the homeless. All that happened because Black people stood up and good people stood up with the African American community to demand change in society,” said Smallwood Cuevas. “At the same time,” added the activist, “African Americans have been paying the price for their demands ever since.”

Smallwood Cuevas pointed out some of the challenges that Blacks continue to face, an unemployment rate that in 1963 was double the White rate and that today is nearly triple; young Black men unable to walk the street without fearing having their lives taken with no legal protection or redress; a younger generation completely left out of opportunity as well as fathers and sons denied a quality education, which in turn impacts their ability to obtain a job.

Smallwood Cuevas looked at Saturday’s celebration as a call to action that asked the questions of how to create full employment and quality jobs.

“This is a call to action that says as a community, we have to come together and recognize what has happened and what is happening. We can’t wait for politicians and leaders to act. But it’s for ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

“When we talk across the kitchen table. We have to start talking in the churches and the clubs to branch out to the attorneys, the academics and link with working folks. Then they have to reach out and bring in elected officials.”

The Black worker activist also pointed out that African Americans have always been the “canary in the mine” and have been suffering for years. Now that angst has spread to all workers.

“They are in deep pain. You can’t talk to someone about a job, if they don’t have an address or a place to lay their head down. You can’t talk to someone about work if their stomach is growling.”

The Black Worker Center will address the African American worker crisis in depth during a congress planned for Sept. 6-7. Smallwood Cuevas said the event will also look at the jobs, the quality of those jobs, the forces behind the high levels of unemployment and what has become the elephant in the room—racial injustice and employment. She said the organization plans to emerge from the meeting with a blueprint for moving forward.

Although many of the activities commemorating the 50th anniversary have concluded, in Los Angeles a number of events still remain. These include: an “Act Now for Human Rights” rally and march Saturday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. in Leimert Park, at the corner of Vernon Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard. This event is hosted by the National Action Network Los Angeles (323) 521-3477.