Rev. Jesse Jackson decries violence, poverty at HCC black history gala
The deadly mass shooting that claimed 17 lives at a south Florida high school this month illuminates one of the two issues - violence and poverty - that the Rev. Jesse Jackson believes are the most pressing in America today.
The legendary civil rights leader spent a few hours in Houston on Saturday night to address the Houston Community College Black History Scholarship Gala, an annual event.
In remarks before the dinner, attended by more than 400 people in downtown Houston, Jackson said he’s more convinced than ever that unity is the only way for all Americans to prosper.
“There is an interesting level of polarization today,” he said. “We made a better America by pulling down walls and building bridges.”
He directly opposed the idea that more guns in the hands of teachers is an appropriate response to school shootings.
“This society has become much too violent. … We must make a decision to co-exist or have co-annihilation. We must end this scourge of violence,” he said.
Jackson, the founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition who has fought for civil rights for decades, has entered a new battle - surviving and thriving with Parkinson’s disease.
The 76-year-old said “a medical regimen” of rest and prayer have allowed him to continue to work and travel. Jackson was diagnosed in 2015 and revealed his illness publicly in November.
The man who was a lieutenant to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is known for his slogans including “keep hope alive” and “I am somebody.” He ran for president in 1984 and 1988, opening the doors for the election of the first black president in 2008, Barack Obama.
Jackson also said there’s too much poverty, noting that more than half of black and Latino workers in the United States make less than $15 an hour.
“They work, but they’re the working poor,” he said. “The cost of living and the cost of education is rising. If you work, you still can’t get an education, an affordable house or health care. It’s just not the best of America. Too few have so much; too many have so little.”
Jackson, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom - the nation’s highest civilian honor - from President Bill Clinton, said equity and equality are his messages during this Black History Month.
“History cannot just be about achievers, it must be also about our journey,” he said, next referring to 1619 - the year the first recorded Africans arrived in North America at the Jamestown, Virginia, colony.
“Next year, we will have been in America 400 years,” he said, noting more than 240 years of legal slavery in the United States followed by decades of Jim Crow. “Five thousand lynchings without a single indictment, so we have overcome a history of violence. We have overcome much.”
U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Houston Democrat, made the historic link between King and Jackson.
“Dr. King taught us that peaceful protest was a way to acquire our civil rights and Rev. Jackson has taught us that peaceful protest can be used to acquire silver rights,” the congressman said. “Dr. King helped us to ride in the front of the bus, which was a wonderful thing, and Rev. Jackson taught us how to use protest to own the bus.”
HCC’s Black History Committee bestowed a posthumous lifetime achievement award on William Harmon, who was president of HCC’s Central Campus from 2005 to 2016. Five community members were recognized as “Unstoppable Leaders”: State Rep. Garnet Coleman, Houston Independent School District Board Chair Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church Senior Pastor Marcus D. Cosby, entertainment attorney Ricky Anderson and veteran sports journalist Ralph Cooper.
There were five scholarship recipients: Julian Cleare, Janel Blair, Brianna Lewis, Tiffany Cook and Magdi Alameen.