In response to a question about how people can persevere during a time of political strife, Reverend Jesse Jackson answered with a saying that could also be used to describe his lifelong career as a civil rights activist. “Deep water doesn’t kill you. It’s when you stop kicking,” said Jackson.
On Feb. 8, Rev. Jesse Jackson visited USF to engage in a conversation with Dr. Clarence Jones revolving around the current political climate. Jesse Jackson ran as a Democrat in the 1984 and 1988 presidential races and has, for decades, been a prominent voice in the civil rights movement.
The conversation began with an introduction from USF President, Father Paul J. Fitzgerald. The dialogue wavered from the importance of voting to the Affordable Care Act to the current effect of the nationwide protests. Jones acted as the moderator, posing statements that prompted enthusiastic discourse.
Jackson engaged in a hopeful and inspirational dialogue, not only with Jones, but with the audience.
“The importance of young people like yourselves combating the injustices we see today is paramount,” Jackson said. When he wanted to propound a certain point, he asked the audience to reiterate certain sentences; after each word he would say, the audience would chant it back. He did this for his powerful closing statement, “Keep hope alive.”
After the conversation between Jones and Jackson, microphones in the aisles were set up so members of the audience could present questions and comments to Jackson.
“I intend on being the first woman president of this country,” started Courtney King, a second year law student at UC Berkeley. “There are people like myself who are in our young 20s and 30s, still trying to understand our place in society. Because of the election, we have now found, more clearly, the issues we are facing and I hope to be a part of the solution to that.” After her statement, Jackson smiled and responded saying, “I appreciate your ambition, you’re certainly in line to be president.”
Numerous questions followed, ranging from how people of color can navigate society, to the effect that immigration restrictions have on local communities.
McLaren Hall’s seats were filled with both students and faculty from USF, and people from around community wanting the see the Reverend speak. NBA legend and USF alumni Bill Cartwright was also in attendance.
“I thought it was really great of Father Paul to have Jesse Jackson speak, he is such an icon in our society,” Cartwright said after hearing Jackson. “To me, for a lot of the people here, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s very special,” he said.
Natasha Rogen, a senior economics major, commented “I am in awe in overall having the chance to see both [Dr. Jones and Jackson] speak.”
For many like Rogen, this was the first opportunity to witness a living historical figure speak on vital issues facing today’s world. But adjunct professor at USF’s School of Education, Laura Hodder, had already had one motivating interaction with Jackson.
“I saw Jackson when I was 17 and going to high school back in Florida,” Hodder said, “I was inspired, but at the time I was too young to vote. But seeing him again, I feel just as inspired as I did all those decades ago.”
Ashley Jones, the president of USF’s Black Student Union also attended the event. “I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation,” Jones said, “I think it’s important to see those who laid the foundation of the modern civil rights movement and for them to weigh in on the current state of the country.”
Jackson’s visit has been a part of USF’s Celebration of Black History month. Keynote speakers, events and a DiversityTalks film series are all planned to highlight key aspects of the civil rights movement.
Photo: HURSH KARKHANIS/FOGHORN