BY Lisa Chinn Marvashti-UMW
Binge-watching C-SPAN from his great-grandmother’s couch was just the beginning for Tylik McMillan.
“That’s the only thing she watched,” he said. And as he sat there, too, seeing politics play out on the screen, he pictured himself – and other young men and women of color – with their own seat at the table.
Now 27, McMillan is a social justice leader and movement strategist who’s worked with The Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) for more than a decade. He’s been featured for helping organize marches and for his viewpoints on voting, police reform and other civil rights issues on Good Morning America, CBS News and CNN. And, yes, you can find him on C-SPAN.
When he delivers the University of Mary Washington’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration keynote address Wednesday, Jan. 24, McMillan said, he’ll delve into the spirit of King, his daring to dream and his courage to step into the fight. The talk, presented by the James Farmer Multicultural Center, will take place inside the Cedric Rucker University Center’s Chandler Ballroom at 7 p.m.
“It’s our discomfort that really pushes us into new opportunities and allows us to leave a lasting legacy,” McMillan said. “One day we will no longer be here, and our diplomas will no longer be on the wall. The only thing that will remain is the legacy of what we accomplished.”
For McMillan – a Virginia native who grew up in Pennsylvania, working the polls with his family – that’s already a lot. He was 15 when he became a regional youth director for NAN, taking on Sharpton’s quest to create equal rights synergy between generations.
McMillan kept up his change-making work at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where he studied political science and government. He served as Student Government Association Executive Board attorney general, interned in high-stakes political offices and held roles with such entities as the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
By graduation in 2019, he’d bulked up his résumé … and found a new job. At 22, he became a NAN policy advisor, sitting in for Sharpton when needed. “There were plenty of times when ‘The Rev.’ couldn’t make it to White House meetings, and he would send little old me.”
“Little old him” managed projects for Gilead Sciences’ Advancing Health and Black Equity, created in response to the 2020 murder of George Floyd, before working for the past year in outreach and community advancement for the Credit Union National Association. McMillan helped organize the 2020 Commitment March on Washington and 2021’s March On for Voting Rights, both drawing hundreds of thousands to Washington, D.C.
All to encourage civic engagement.
“I pose the questions to young folks: ‘What will the history books say about us? Will we be complacent and comfortable, or will we be uncomfortable and really shift the narrative as to what our future’s going to look like?’ ”
McMillan chooses the latter, translating community issues to lawmakers and stakeholders, and pushing for policies that advance social and economic equality.
He pictured it that way.