Civil rights speaker calls for action


Image source: UVM

Former NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous spoke Jan. 22 at UVM as part of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Education & Learning series. In 2008, at 35 years old, Jealous became the NAACP’s youngest ever national leader.

Rachel Halpern, Staff Writer

An American civil rights leader and politician spoke at UVM, encouraging young people to work for positive change.

Benjamin Jealous came to UVM Jan. 22 as part of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Education & Learning Series.

Jealous is the former president and CEO of the NAACP and a 2018 Maryland gubernatorial candidate.

Jealous discussed his own experiences in the justice system and how he found motivation to work for causes he believed in.

His speech focused on motivating young people to find what issues they care about and fight for change.

Jealous described a time when he was approached in a Mississippi restaurant by a white man.

Jealous was initially on edge, but the man praised Jealous. From this Jealous offered a lesson: “Give everyone a chance to be your ally.”

Although Jealous never met King, he worked with men who worked closely with King. Jealous quoted King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” several times.

“The core of King’s thinking is in ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail,’” Jealous said.

Jealous received a standing ovation for his speech and audience members lined up afterwards to ask questions and take pictures with him.

Wanda Heading-Grant, vice president for Human Resources, Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, organized the event for UVM’s annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Education & Learning Series.

Heading-Grant and President Tom Sullivan introduced Jealous, explaining that they hope Jealous’ experiences and his speech would motivate the audience to take action against what they feel is not right.

SGA Senator Camil Dino Srna, a junior, believes it is important to look at inspirational leaders and their actions and strategies.

He said this not only applies to the civil rights movement but to all activists.

“It’s important to look in this modern day and see how we as college students can say, ‘hey, this is what we see as the injustices of the U.S., of the world — how we can make a difference?’” Srna said.

One of these young activists Jealous spoke about was Jokata Edday, a former officer in the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Edday’s efforts to fight the death penalty for children eventually led to the Supreme Court federal ban on the death penalty for minors, Jealous said.

SGA President Ethan Foley, a junior, said he found it inspiring to hear what another leader had to say, and it was very exciting to see what Jealous accomplished at such a young age, he said.

“I think that kind of reminds myself, and I’m hoping other college students here at UVM, that we do have the power and ability to make an active difference in the world for the better,” he said.

Throughout his speech, Jealous kept returning to a Mark Twain quote: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Jealous urged the audience, especially the younger members in attendance, to figure out their reason why.