"If you can ride on the front of the bus, and you can't read, you are not truly free," US Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.
Duncan was the guest speaker at an educational initiative to engage young people in dialogue with leaders of the civil rights movement. The program was streamed live at schools across the country.
"Too many of our young people left on the sidelines are black and brown and poor. And that's not what John Lewis and Dr. King were marching for," Duncan said.
Secretary Duncan, who is the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, reflected on his former school system making national headlines.
"If your children aren't safe, if they are worried or fearful, it's hard to concentrate on fundamental building blocks- algebra, college, taking the next step," Duncan said.
Dr. Martin Luther King's daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, who organized Tuesday's event, said she was encouraged by these students desire to continue her father's dream.
"Sitting here today and listening to your questions lets me know we are going to be in good hands as we move forward," Rev. King said.
"It is pressure to keep moving forward in the struggle for things we are passionate about," Tyreik Mack, student, said.
"It's empowering to think that we are the leaders of the next generation and hearing that from such important people that were the leaders of the time. Even though they have achieved so much, there's still so much yet to achieve and we're the ones that are going to have to bring that social change," Delmar Tarrago, student, said.
On Tuesday night in Washington, actors from the Goodman Theater recounted events leading up to the march.
The play is called "A Prelude to a Dream." The setting is 1963, at a mass meeting on the night before the March on Washington for jobs and freedom.
Cast members say it is significant that they are recounting those moments before a packed house on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s unforgettable "I Have a Dream" speech.
"Fifty years later, I'm 70 years old and I'm able to relive the moment in a different way, a moment that changed my life forever. So it's exciting," said Gwen Hilary, actor.
"This shows that we see ourselves in these people and it's relevant. We should be honoring them in everything we do," said Sasha Eby, actor.
The play was originally produced in connection with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and now director Alan Marshall is funding performances in the nation's capital.
"I wanted to honor those who have sacrificed for the freedom that I've had," said Alan Marshall, writer, producer and director.
Marshall says he has spent $170,000 of his own money to get this play into production. He says it's his way of giving back to the many freedom fighters who endured so much to effect change.
"There's still a lot of pain. When I can bring them to the show and they come it reenergizes them and lets them know that somebody does care about what they're doing," said Marshall.
Some of those civil rights leaders were invited to a reception at the White House Tuesday evening. On Wednesday, President Obama along with former presidents Clinton and Carter will speak at the "Let Freedom Ring" closing ceremony. It will be at the same place where Dr. King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech.