Eastern Michigan University hosted the 31st annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration with keynote speaker Benjamin Jealous.
Benjamin Jealous was the youngest president and CEO of the NAACP. Under the leadership of Jealous the NAACP grew and developed as an organization. Throughout his career he has been a social and civil leader, activist and organizer. Prior to his role as NAACP president and CEO he spent 15 years as a journalist.
“This is a great moment for your campus and for your community to take a leap forward in inclusion. We should all appreciate the role that student activists play in moments like this,” said Jealous.
He encouraged the campus to not let a good crisis go to waste, and capitalize on an opportunity to progress. Jealous is a firm believer in the potential of bringing people with opposing views together to work on common ground. Jealous encouraged students to come together by focusing on what they have in common instead of their differences, to be kind and listen, and to also lead when needed.
“Don’t beat each other up, other people will take care of that for you,” he chuckled.
Over his lifetime Jealous has worked to challenge the death penalty, end mass incarceration, outlaw racial profiling, defend voting rights, keep colleges open, secure marriage equality and to free several wrongfully incarcerated individuals.
He told a story of how he chose what to spend his life focusing on, and explained how he made the decision to make “ending the injustice in the justice system” his life mission. Jealous expressed that when an organizer is passionate they can achieve their goal and inspire others to follow.
“It's not enough at any point in history for you to simply know what you are fighting for, you also must know what others have gained for you,” said Jealous. He warned that the chances are high for losing ground if you don’t understand what was already been gained.
“We got what we fought for, but we lost what we had,” said Jealous, a quote from his 100-year-old grandmother that he used to explain how inclusion in America got to it’s current state. He expressed distaste for the how inclusion is displayed for minorities in America, and used the large number of incarcerated and murdered African Americans as an example.
Jealous believes the world would change faster and for the better if more individuals committed to changing what they are passionate about. He warned against turning ordinary people into statues that achieved unobtainable feats and stressed that heroes start out as everyday people.
“The only thing that's better than spending your whole life finding the perfect thing to change before you die is just to find something that's pretty good and go get it done,” said Jealous. “The beauty of being on fire like Dr. King and others is that you often win faster than anyone thought was possible.”