As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, it reminds us to look back at Rochester's role in the civil rights movement and the often forgotten heroes and dreams that blazed the trail toward equality in our city. The photograph at right captures a moment in history, showing a meeting of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and several prominent black leaders in the community. Among the members of this congregation is Milliard E. Latimer Sr., my great-grandfather.
With the recent death of Millard Sr.'s son, my grandfather, Millard Jr. (1929-2011), I remember a man who was a community leader, an admirable businessman, and an advocate for those who needed assistance during times of need. He dedicated his life to operating Millard E. Latimer and Son Funeral Directors Inc. on South Plymouth Avenue, a business that was founded by his father in 1922. As the longest established African American business in Rochester, Millard Sr. faced many challenges, including discrimination and vandalism. Despite this, he and several of Rochester's leaders pressed forward in their fight for equality.
Looking back 50 years after the March on Washington at the struggle for equity and community in Rochester, we must ask ourselves, "How far have we come?" While Rochester has seen the desegregation of some of our most regarded institutions, has moved beyond the turbulence of the race riots, and has seen the election of the first African American president, and the election of our first black mayor, Bill Johnson, we still struggle to be whole.
Rochester continues to have failing schools, areas of high crime, and financially devastated neighborhoods. Though, to match these shattering problems we have equally good teachers, committed and dedicated community leaders, and an abundance of wealth: whether cultural, spiritual, or financial.
Inspired by the movement for jobs and freedom, we find ourselves trapped in a unique history where the dream that MLK so eloquently preached to more than 200,000 people on the Lincoln Memorial only continues to be partially realized. We all must continue the struggle for political equity and social citizenship. Sustainability ought to be our mission, localization of consumption ought to be our hope, and service to our community ought to be our dream.
It is time for each one of us to stand back and take a critical look at our city. Are we doing everything we can to live up to King's dream and our community's hopes? This anniversary and photograph serve as reminders that we must continue the legacy of our forefathers and all step forward to do our part in creating a Rochester that is healthy, strong, and vibrant; a place that we can all be proud to call home.
Jarred Jones sits on the Board of Directors of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, serves as a campaign manager for Rochester City Council candidate the Rev. Marlowe Washington, and works as a regional assistant to US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.