Combing through the many tributes that have appeared since Julian Bond’s death, I was struck by one photograph in particular.

A young Julian is standing beside a seated Paul Robeson. The giant of a man — scholar, athlete, singer, actor and civil rights activist, who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era — has one arm wrapped around Julian as they both look into the camera. Robeson’s big brown hands hold on to the boy.

Bond’s parents — his mother a librarian, his father a civil rights leader and president of Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University — filled their home with activists, artists and intellectuals such as Robeson and W.E.B. Du Bois. Did they call to their son? “Julian, come take a picture with Mr. Robeson.”

Little Julian stares straight into the lens, a dutiful child doing, maybe, what has been asked of him.

What grips me most about the photograph is that it embodies for me some fundamental truths about social justice in our country and its deep ties to the African American struggle for equality. That they are, in fact, one and the same. And that this road, a long and bloody one, crosses centuries, and thus generations, and is far from over.

Paul Robeson, left, with a young Julian Bond. (The John W. Mosley Photographic Collection, Chales L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries.)

Slavery locked black people out of America’s “grand experiment.” And it is precisely because of that exclusion that African Americans have been at the forefront of social change, critical to helping guide and shape this democracy and a nation’s character. Every African American advance toward full equality propels our democracy forward.

Life has brought many, regardless of race, to this road, but Julian Bond, who died last week at 75, was born on it. His was a well-traveled family. It had the long view of this journey toward justice, as that photo symbolizes.

Here together were the faces of two warriors: Like Robeson in his time, Julian Bond stood up, and one of the greatest measures of his life are the victories he and other members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee won as they fought for voting rights in the 1960s. Their ties were forged in the flames of youth and war. The enemy wanted to kill them. Too many times the enemy succeeded.

We can never forget that it was SNCC’s generation, the movement’s shock troops, that helped shape what is good in our democracy today.

I saw Julian Bond at the District’s Metropolitan AME Church in July. It was the opening night of the third annual March on Washington Film Festival. The evening was dedicated to women of the civil rights movement and spotlighted a new film about Fannie Lou Hamer, herself an SNCC worker. I didn’t know that Bond was there until the SNCC members present were asked to stand. Then, there he was, long and lean, rising quietly from the pews. How modest they seemed in that moment, Bond and his comrades, who were teenagers or barely in their 20s when they risked everything.

These giants still walk among us, I thought that night.

In the past year, we’ve watched a new generation of activists emerge on the national stage — changing the conversation on policing, and lately shaking up presidential politics.

How much, I’ve wondered from the beginning, and even more this week, are those aging SNCC vets and young activists talking to one another? Not because one generation must define the way forward for another — SNCC veterans, who famously fought their own battles for autonomy, would never go for that.

But because moving forward has always meant one generation building on another.

As SNCC vets and some younger activists told me this week, there are conversations. But the levels of their engagement are as varied as the individuals and groups operating around #BlackLivesMatter. As is well known, #BLM has a decentralized approach. And like any political entity, it has its divisions and differences.

That rejection of a top-down, personality-driven leadership is in the tradition of longtime activist and SNCC mentor Ella Baker, who was well into her 50s when she helped the group form, fought for its autonomy and then made sure that she and others mostly stayed out of its way.

But neither she nor SNCC stopped there. What defined the group was its community organizing and strategies to bring forth change.

“We made the choice to follow a model of group-centered leadership developed by Ella Baker,” says Charlene Carruthers of Black Youth Project 100. “SNCC built a dynamic base and built authentic local relationships — that’s how we go about building power, too.”

Courtland Cox, a SNCC veteran who heads the SNCC Legacy Project, has traveled several times to Ferguson, Mo., and is engaged with young activists. The World War II generation took on the responsibility to engage young people of Cox’s time, he said.

“At the end of the day they really, really felt the need to not only stand up to what they saw but also to transfer whatever information of wealth they had to the next generation,” Cox said. “We have responsibility to do that at this time.”

Julian Bond and his comrades lived long enough to witness both a high — a black president — and an enraging frustration — the hard-won right to vote coming under siege.

In his speeches, Bond was poignant about the past and forceful about the future.

In March, he delivered the Hatheway History Lecture at Edgewood College in Madison, Wis. A few quotes:

• “We marched and we picketed and we protested against state-sanctioned segregation and we brought that system crashing to its knees. Today’s times require no less, and in fact insist on more. We have to fight discrimination wherever it raises its ugly head, in the halls of government, in corporate suites and in the streets.”

• “None of it is easy, but we have never wished our way to freedom. Instead we have always worked our way. If our progress remains incomplete, if too many of us have left the back of the bus for the front of the unemployment line, let us take heart, today we have much more work to do and much more to work with.”

He and fellow SNCC member Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Bond remarked, often spoke about seeing changes they’d never believed they would.

And then there are the things that stun and sting, such as the anger and disbelief you can hear in SNCC veteran Joyce Ladner’s voice when she talks about the state of voting rights. And there is the hard truth that some young people are disillusioned about voting in general.

Death, loss, birth and possibility, these are the truths that dance across time, that propel the generations. But it is possible too for a generation to lose its way, to miss its opportunity if it is not clear about the way forward.

As a nation dedicates another good soldier to the ages, there will be sadness, praise for his contribution, calls for honoring his legacy.

Maybe many will see in that legacy the value of wisdom and confidence.

Maybe they will see that it is possible to embrace the wisdom of those who have come before without being chained to the past.

That the nation presses forward knowing that there’s so much hard work ahead, but confident that the good we do is never in vain, and that even in the darkest moments, it’s possible to win. That protecting those hard-won victories requires vigilance.

Toward the end of that Edgewood speech, Bond invokes his grandfather’s words.

“My slave-born grandfather speaks to us again,” Bond told a rapt audience. “Wrong, he says, may seem to prevail, and the good already accomplished seem to be overthrown, but forward in the struggle, inspired by the achievements of the past, sustained by a faith that knows no faltering, forward [in] the struggle.”

The message is summed up simply for me as African Americans and our nation continue this journey: Keep the faith.