Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. spotlights inequality in education
In his keynote address at Elon Law, U.S. Rep. Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. focused on disparities in educational opportunity.
Jackson (D-Ill.) headlined Elon University School of Law's fourth annual Martin Luther King, Jr., forum on Jan. 12.
Jackson, who began service in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1995, opened his remarks by describing what he saw as King's overarching objective before calling for an amendment to the U.S. constitution that would guarantee quality education for all American children.
“He is after something else, he is after the sustaining of our civilization,” Jackson said. “What is it going to take to help America live to be 1,000 years old? … Every American who wakes up every day unable to feed their families, every American who wakes up one more day unable to pay their mortgages, every American who wakes up every day unable to solve the student loan crisis is one more American who wakes up no longer believing in the system.”
Jackson argued that issues of human rights, including education, were better addressed through a national approach than through “inherently separate and unequal” efforts across states and localities.
“How do we get there?” Jackson asked about improving education. “One governor at a time, one broke legislature at a time, one city at a time, or do we believe that all citizens should enjoy the right to a public education of equal high quality and that the Congress of the United States should have the power to implement this article by appropriate legislation?”
“Let the politics determine what the appropriate legislation is every two years,” Jackson continued. “Some years we can afford to advance it, some years we can’t, but at least the politics of 435 people running for Congress is, I promise you to make schools even better than that guy, as opposed to the politics of how can we not fund schools, and how can we not provide people with health care, how can we not provide people with housing, how can we not provide people with jobs.”
Describing inequities in education across the country, Jackson compared the educational opportunities of children in Silicon Valley to children of the coal mining regions of West Virginia.
“The microchip kids get a better education than the coal kids,” Jackson said. “So what did Dr. King say? He said I believe that education is my human right, but in American education is my state right, and while I am physically removed from slavery as a result of the 13th Amendment, I want all children of this nation … to hold hands across state lines and everybody ought to be learning on an i-pad at the same time. I can’t count on this state legislature, with this governor’s lips dripping with words like interposition and nullification, to fulfill my dreams.”
Jacskon also argued that changes in the U.S. Constitution could achieve dynamic growth in the national economy. He said the First Amendment was responsible for 51% of all jobs in America and that legislation to provide educational opportunities of equal high quality and a clean environment could achieve equal or greater heights of economic activity in the country.
After graduating with honors from North Carolina A&T State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Management, Representative Jackson earned a Master of Arts Degree in Theology from the Chicago Theological Seminary and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Illinois College Of Law.
Since being elected to the House of Representatives in 1995, Representative Jackson has created the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities and has secured funding for the Institute of Medicine’s research on racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare. Representative Jackson currently sits on the House Appropriations Committee, serving on the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies; the Vice-Chair, of the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs; and is a member of the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies.
Adam Spivey L’13 opened the forum with welcoming remarks.
“Greensboro serves as a place of special significance within the civil rights movement,” said Spivey. “Greensboro was at the forefront of the civil rights struggle, a struggle in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. eventually gave his life in support of. The International Civil Rights Museum just up the street from here serves as a special reminder of the importance of the tenets of the civil rights movement, tenets we here at Elon Law seek to commemorate by celebrating diversity in all its aspects and forms.”
Justin Ramey L’13 gave remarks honoring the occasion.
“The conscious of our nation was awakened by Dr. King’s mission to achieve freedom and justice for all in the spirit of love and brotherhood,” Ramey said. “He possessed an amazing ability to articulate the plight of the impoverished and the disenfranchised, but he also inspired a national and global fight against inequality and the denial of basic human rights. We honor his dream and his vision of the world as it should have been and his unwavering courage to bring about transformative social progress.”
The School of Law invited high school and undergraduate students interested in the study of law to attend this event. By providing this opportunity to explore current legal issues, the Elon Law seeks to foster interest in the pursuit of a legal education as well as an appreciation for opportunities available for groups currently underrepresented within the legal profession. The forum was free and open to the public.
James G. Exum, Jr., Distinguished Jurist-in-Residence at Elon Law and former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, introduced Jackson. Karima Grady L’12 delivered a poetic tribute at the forum, reading “Let America Be America Again,” by Langston Hughes. Sharon Gaskin, Associate Dean for Admissions at Elon Law, provided closing acknowledgments, including comments of appreciation to undergraduate and high school students who attended the forum as part of their exploration of careers in legal education. Andrea Davis, president of the Student Bar Association at Elon Law, provided closing remarks.
The event was sponsored by the Black Law Students Association, the William Hooper Chapter of Phi Alpha Delta, the American Civil Liberties Union, the admissions office of Elon Law, and the Law School Admission Council as part of Discoverlaw.org Month.