Modern-day Civil Rights Leaders: Todd Walton

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.  Co-op member Todd Walton, founder of the Emerging Leaders Commission at Rainbow PUSH, challenges us to see civil rights not as a “movement,” but as “a way of life.”
Todd Walton
Tell us about yourself and the work you are doing in civil rights today.
I recently founded the Emerging Leaders Commission as a division of the iconic Rainbow PUSH Coalition under the guidance of Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. and other key advisors. The ELC was developed as a means to engage young adults 18 to 35, promoting various initiatives surrounding economic development, leadership development and civic engagement. Some of the key initiatives we have launched include the following:
  •  “I am somebody” initiative, which uses Reverend Jackson’s “I am somebody” speech as a jumping-off point for a community dialogue with 500 plus young adults and which features hip-hop superstars Lupe Fiasco and Waka Flocka Flame;
  •  “I am aware”, an HIV/Aid testing event that coordinated partnerships and sponsorships leading to the supply of testing supplies for over 350 patients;
  • And the #WhatsYourDreamcivic engagement initiative in partnership with MTV, which was a digital media campaign featuring international influencers, activists and entertainers from COMMON to Jaime Foxx to Reverend Jackson.
What do you see as the primary impact Martin Luther King had on the civil rights movement today?
Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King’s primary impact in my eyes came from his leadership abilities— through blind love, compassion, fearlessness and intelligence. He showed the world that intolerance can be changed and forgiven and that no matter what the struggle is, as long as you persevere you can change the world.

What do you see as the future of the civil rights movement in 2014 and beyond? 
I believe that like all things, the civil rights movement has to be looked at on a global scale. It’s sad to even still have to say civil rights is still a “movement.”  It should be a way of life; everybody should be treated equally according to our civil liberties.  Looking from a global perspective, we’re not only fighting for civil rights—we’re still fighting for basic human rights. Once everyone’s human rights our protected, I think as a country the fight for equality needs to turn to equal access to healthcare, education and security and protection for all.  Once that occurs, I feel we can start to combat ignorance and prosper.

Who do you think is the most influential and inspiring civil rights leader working today?
That’s a tough question, the battlefield has expanded so much that everyday a number of individuals are fighting for their own civil liberties, and some are fighting for others. Each is equally inspiring. To actually answer the question, looking back at the previous question, I think the global battle is dealing with basic human rights, which Chinese activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiabo is a living breathing example of. That man embodies the spirit of great leaders such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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