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Jesse Jackson: ‘Let's fight today’s fight’

STRONG MESSAGE: Reverend Jesse Jackson wants young leaders to step up

US CIVIL rights activist Jesse Jackson urged high-profile black celebrities to be more conscious of their power to make a difference when he visited the UK recently.

Addressing nearly 600 students at Middlesex University, in north London on December 4, Rev Jackson recalled how heroes like Dr Martin Luther King had “changed the law and changed our minds” through his activism.

Dr King played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African American citizens in the South as well as in the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Rev Jackson said: “He used his platform to educate. That’s what Stevie Wonder did, that’s what Aretha Franklin did, so I am appealing for others to use their gift to uplift and inspire and be aware of how much power they have.”

Regarding the backlash high-profile rappers such as Kanye West and Jay Z have received for not using their status enough to empower others, Rev Jackson said he would not “criticise their approach” in how they chose to motivate others, as long as they were doing so.”

The popular US civil rights activist added: “Some people don’t realise how much power they have in enforcing other people’s minds”.

His call for greater social responsibility follows the comments of legendary activist, Harry Belafonte, who spoke of his despair over black celebrities.

Belafonte said: “I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities who have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for Jay Z and Beyonce, for example.”


‘NO SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY’: Rappers Jay Z and Kanye West

In response, Jay Z said that “just being who he is” was a big enough contribution and likened himself to Barack Obama, the first African American to be elected president.

He said: “Obama provides hope. Whether he does anything, the hope that he provides for a nation, and outside of America is enough.”

Rev Jackson’s visit to Middlesex University is part of commemorative celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of King’s I Have a Dream speech.

Earlier in the week, Rev Jackson made trips to Oxford and Cambridge universities as part of a push to get more black talent into Britain’s elite institutions.

While there, he expressed disappointment that last year, 21 of Oxford’s 38 colleges did not admit a single black student.

He said the institution was “cheating [its pupils] of a multicultural and multi-racial experience in a world that is multicultural and multi-racial.”

The Reverend said: “You cannot fight yesterday’s fight. You fight today’s fight, which is lack of access to housing and health care.”
He also highlighted issues such as the rise in tuition fees to up to £9,000 per year as a key challenge affecting the younger generation.

As a result, he ordered Britain’s young people to stop waiting for a saviour and make a difference with their own lives. He added: “[King] was born ordinary, and rose to be extraordinary.”

Reflecting on the assassination of Dr King, Rev Jackson said: “When he was killed in 1968, our hearts bled, our heads hung down, we were traumatised. We didn’t know what to do, but we wouldn’t allow one bullet to kill a whole movement.”

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