Jesse Jackson on Campus


By Basma Humadi, Staff Writer

Jesse Jackson marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis from Selma to Montgomery. The civil rights activist and reverend fought alongside the new wave of Americans who participated in movements like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and called for an end to segregation in the United States.

Knowing Jackson’s fight for civil rights led to better opportunities for African Americans today is what sophomore attendee India Moon felt most happy to see.

“I was satisfied for him because I’m a dream he hoped for when he started this,” Moon said. “His efforts helped me be able to attend college as a black woman.”

In an intimate setting at Harris Theater on a Friday afternoon, Jackson — a living, breathing figure of American history — spoke to a crowd of Mason students addressing issues that affect many of us today.

From the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville to the importance of college students’ voting, Jackson’s words precisely articulated the feelings of many and reassured them that there is still room to heal and move forward.

“We are God’s people,” Jackson said. “We will not go backwards in fear. We will go forward in hope.”

Calling on today’s youth, Jackson noted the responsibility of Mason students to look beyond and reframe the mentality on white supremacists who participated in Charlottesville.

“Your generation has the burden upon it,” Jackson said. “Not to see those who march in hoods as mean, but in many ways, as sick… something now, a virus, is in this soul. So we must rip the virus out and redeem the soul.”

An irony itself, and testament to the success of Jackson’s fight for civil rights, is that Jackson, who once fought for better voting rights, then went on to become a two-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988.  

Yet Jackson’s grandmother, one of his most adamant supporters, couldn’t muster the courage to vote for him due to the shame she felt from being illiterate.

“When I ran for president my grandmother couldn’t vote for me because she couldn’t read and write,” Jackson said. “She was embarrassed.”

Jackson, currently going on a “Healing and Rebuilding” tour across Virginia, is calling on citizens to register to vote. In a grand gesture supported by Mason fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, Jackson had unregistered voters come to the front of the stage and sign documents to register to vote. Out-of-state students who are not registered to vote on location at Mason campus were also called to come to the front of the stage and change their voting location.

“There are many reasons we don’t vote, but none of them stand good sense,” Jackson said.

The event brought a diverse array of students, such as Nayanka James, an international student from France, who wanted to seize the opportunity to see a living civil rights figure share his experiences.

“He is peaceful and I think that should have been difficult for him when he had to face so much hatred at the beginning of his life,” James said. “Just [him] finding a way to be peaceful and happy and share love with people and positive vibes — that’s the proof of [his] strong personality.”

Junior Nicole Gordon felt inspired to go to the event because she wanted to know more about Jackson’s struggle as an African American who lived through Jim Crow Laws.  

“Hearing about segregation really gets me fired up,” Gordon said. “I wanted to know more about it because there’s no way I could experience that truly. So to hear his experiences about him going to jail and not being able to use a public restroom or a library — stuff I take for granted [is important].”

Having lived through the divisive era of segregation — fighting for a better, more just and fair America, “A more perfect union” America, Jackson is a palpable testament that the America we live in today can also be a better, more just, more fair place if they take a stand.

“We must choose hope and healing over hate and hurt,” Jackson said to the crowd.

Photo by Basma Humadi