Modern-day Civil Rights Leaders: Michael Skolnik

This week, we talked to a wide-range of modern-day civil rights leaders who are continuing the fight for equal opportunity for all Americans that Martin Luther King so powerfully gave voice to 50 years ago.  We were lucky enough to discuss the future of the civil rights movement with Edison Talks speaker Michael Skolnik, the Editor-in-Chief of, a digital medial company, a Political Director to Russell Simmons and a social justice leader who sees the internet and social media as among the powerful tools that will help us keep the “torch” of justice lit today.  
Michael Skolnik
Tell us about yourself and the work you are doing in civil rights today.
I am the Editor-in-Chief of and the Political Director to Russell Simmons.  In our work, we wake up every day and fight for young people.  The New America has arrived, ushered in by the most diverse generation in our history, and they want to end the injustices in this country and the world with more tenacity than any other generation prior.  We fight alongside some of the greatest freedom fighters in this country on issues like reducing violence in our communities, marriage equality, animal rights, eradicating poverty, increasing access to affordable, quality education and so much more.What do you see as the primary impact Martin Luther King had on the civil rights movement today?
King gave us the blueprint.  King gave us the roadmap.  King gave us the power to believe.  To believe that in our life-time, we will reach the mountaintop.  As young people, we look to King and his peers as a source of knowledge and wisdom, but we know that we hold the torch now, and it is our job to keep it lit.What do you see as the future of the civil rights movement in 2014 and beyond? 
I believe the future of the civil rights movement is a combustion of traditional organizing and online creativity.  America sees the most advancements in social justice when communication changes radically, and we have seen that the past few years.  With the emergence of the internet and social media as tools of organizing and amplification, we must master the balance between our online presence and our presence on the streets.  We have more power today, as people, than we have ever had, and it is our job to use that power to uplift all people around the world.

Who do you think is the most influential and inspiring civil rights leader working today?
I am moved by the courage and humility of the parents of children who have been killed by gun violence.  People like Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, the parents of Trayvon Martin, or Ron Davis and Luci McBath, the parents of Jordan Davis, or Nelba Marquez-Greene and Jimmy Greene, the parents of Ana Marquez-Greene.  These are the Americans who will make our country better.  In their spirit, I am also deeply inspired by young people like Phillip Agnew and The Dream Defenders, who are 21st-century civil rights leaders, challenging the establishment to listen to new voices in the movement.

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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