Color of Change, the progressive civil rights advocacy organization, celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a gala at New York City’s Gotham Hall this past Monday (October 6). The Internet-based grassroots activist group was first founded in response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—when government officials very publicly showed no sense of urgency to meet even the most basic needs of Black people in crisis, a time when (much like 1960s) the suffering of people of color was heavily exploited and broadcast. The very forces that should have protected people, regardless of color or class, instead stripped, exposed and publicly oppressed them.

Rather than watch and grumble over the maligning of Black people in the media, Color of Change got charged up. CoC’s mission is to make the voice of our community powerful enough to change the system by strengthening the political voice of Black America. Using the power of technology, paired with the collective energy of individual responsibility, net neutrality, social media presence and political reinforcement, Color of Change gets the job done.

Being Mary Jane creator Mara Brock Akil remarked that “using art as an agent of change is also a strategy,” as she presented Selma director and cultural heroine Ava DuVernay with the Color of Change Award.

Studded with esteemed heavy-hitters in the community, the gala shined light on Color of Change co-founders Van Jones and James Rucker, CoC executive director Rashad Robinson, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, congresswoman Barbara Lee and nationally syndicated journalist and NewsOne Now anchor Roland Martin.

The tone of the evening delivered a fresh perspective to the idea of “presence vs. power.” Is it enough as people of color to stride in our social and political settings, but still languish in power? Is that progress? “We keep everyone accountable,” said James Rucker, speaking about CoC being “dialed up a bit.”

“Ten years ago, Van Jones and I started Color of Change, and it was really a reaction to the fact that we didn’t have [an] infrastructure that could hold politicians accountable, that could advance issues that matter to Black communities,” said Rucker. “I didn’t want to do it alone.”

When asked about the changing political tides since Color of Change was founded, Rucker admitted, “I would say that there are things we now have that we didn’t have. But if you look at the state of the criminal justice system, if you look at the policing of Black people, it’s partly why, in general, I have a hard time celebrating.”

He added, “But there are things to celebrate. We’ve done some great things, and I’m proud of Color of Change. But there are big elements of the state of Black America that are just horrendous. They’re intolerable and they shouldn’t be. So I think it’s great that we’re building some momentum. Color of Change is really a 21st century civil rights organization, and that’s wonderful. Black Lives Matter is absolutely critical and wonderful. So there’s ways in which we’re making strides, but there’s still a lot to do.”

Concluding the evening, Tonight Show bandleader (and October EBONY magazine cover star) Questlove of The Roots rocked a brief DJ set for the afterparty, contributing to the evening’s refreshingly modern approach to the tackling of social justice issues and the galvanization of innovative energy, cultural responsibility and, ultimately, our presence versus power.—Eeshé White