Civil rights leaders no longer go to jail for sitting at the front of the bus or endure violence to eat at cafe lunch counters.
Now the struggle is for equality in economic and educational opportunities for minority children, said Erran Persley, who will be a keynote speaker for the Unity's Group's upcoming Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.
"We've got to start focusing on fighting for the right thing -- equal pay for all of our children. For me that begins with educating our children at the same level as everyone else," he said.
Children shouldn't start life behind their peers just because they were born poor or they live in the wrong ZIP code, he said.
Persley is an economic data dissemination specialist at the Bureau of Census.
The 43rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration includes nearly a week of activities to commemorate civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The celebration ends on Jan. 21, the same day that President Barack Obama will take the oath of office for the second time.
This year's theme is "Focus 2020: A New Generation Defines Its Freedoms."
"Dr. King's generation fought to sit at the front of the bus," said event chairman Quenston Coleman. "Today blacks need to fight to purchase the bus company."
King week events examine barriers to progress and opportunity for all, regardless of class or culture, Coleman said.
Activities start Wednesday morning with a Children's Rights conference. There is a community worship service, prayer breakfast, a Dr. King birthday party and a memorial march and program.
Persley said improving schools will not happen overnight, but people immediately can get more involved in education.
"We as a people have to take responsibility for our communities. And when I say as a people, I mean all people."
Persley said he volunteers to teach an economics and research class in an inner-city high school in Nashville so that he can help students prepare better for college and work.
"We're trying to balance the playing field. It's not something you always get paid for," he said. "You just have to realize that if we're all connected together, we have to take care of each other."