BOONE — Understanding how to peacefully live alongside others and care for all people regardless of differences were the main points the Rev. Jesse Jackson conveyed to Boone audience members on Oct. 18.
The civil rights and social justice activist spoke at the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts as part of a University Forum Lecture Series. His talk was titled “With Justice For All: Human Rights and Civil Rights at Home and Abroad.”
Jackson spoke to the audience for roughly an hour with time allotted afterward for questions. Often throughout the event, Jackson had the audience repeat his words back to him.
One of the phrases Jackson had the audience repeat was, “It is to my distinct advantage to learn how to live with people across lines of color, language and religion, because everybody is somebody. When somebody is down, it is my job is to pick them up and not step on them.”
Jackson worked with Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement. Jackson talked about his experiences with King such as the March on Washington in 1963 and the day of King’s assassination in Memphis, Tenn., five years later. He mentioned the movement’s goals of war on poverty, desegregation, voting rights, human rights as well as seeking justice and peace.
Jackson founded a social justice organization in 1984 called National Rainbow Coalition. This Washington, D.C.-based organization merged with Operation PUSH to form Rainbow PUSH Coalition, according to Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s website. Rainbow PUSH Coalition advocates for global peace and justice by way of theology and social justice.
Jackson encouraged the audience to have the courage to see people beyond their color. He explained racism as the belief someone has when he or she are taught that they are superior because of their race, while others are taught that they are inferior because of their race, Jackson said.
“Race… is a gift of God,” Jackson said. “Racism is a gift of the devil.”
Jackson explained racism in terms of a wall; the wall representing ignorance, hatred and violence. He talked about placing two sets of people of different races on either side of the wall.
“You don’t know what’s behind that wall,” Jackson said. “You’ve heard things about them. You’re ignorant of them. You’re afraid of them. You learn to hate them. You become violent toward them.”
He said people become less ignorant and less hateful towards each other “just by structurally removing the wall and learning how to live together.”
Jackson mentioned the Appalachian State football team’s 2007 win over Michigan to talk about the importance of the success of equality. Jackson talked about how the “playing field” was equal for both teams, which contributed to the way the community rejoiced in the victory. Had either team had an unfair advantage, the celebration of the outcome may have been different.
He then compared this to the elation of African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. He said when people win fairly, it comes with a certain kind of joy and a sense of justice.
Jackson then had the audience participate in repeating the following phrase: “Whenever the playing field is equal, the rules are public, the goals are clear, the referee is fair, we accept the outcome.”
Jackson not only spoke about equality when it comes to race, but also with regard to gender, sexual preference, religion and abilities or disabilities. He said he believed in human rights for all human beings.
“Strong minds break strong chains,” Jackson said. “I want you at App State to have good minds.”
Jackson encouraged audience members to have a strong work ethic, learn and earn with growth, be ambitious and to not be afraid to let their voices be heard.
An audience member asked Jackson how he found his courage during the Civil Right Movement. Jackson said there were times he felt violated and humiliated, but had to find his courage beyond the anger. He said upon his first time of going to jail, he lost his fear of jails and death.
“I know when I stand on a stage like this somebody may be here with harmful intention,” Jackson said. “I refuse to not show up because of fear.”
People were invited to join a reception in the center after Jackson’s talk.