By Ameenah Elam
Memories of torches and Confederate flags surfaced in my mind, reminding me of an America led by the wrong people. Yet the Reverend on stage was such a contrast to those memories that I thought to myself, this man knows what he’s doing.. Next thing I know, I’m on stage five feet from Reverend Jesse Jackson, shaking his hand after taking him up on his offer to lead his coalition. That push into leadership and responsibility happened almost too quickly, but racism and hatred don’t give head starts, so why wait?
I’ve heard my parents talk about this man with such high regard. I had read about him in textbooks when my high school briefly addressed black history. I knew he was incredibly well-respected because of the paths he paved for people of color in America. So when I heard that Reverend Jesse Jackson was coming to UVa, I didn’t hesitate to hear him speak.
When he walked off the stage, I didn’t regret missing my 2pm class. Reverend Jackson had a presence that fills the room with wisdom, experience, and patience. In stressing the responsibilities that we as students have in Charlottesville, he bridged the connection between UVa and the city residents.The fact of the matter is, we students do live here. As Reverend Jackson himself said, “If you get your mail here, you live here.” Therefore, we do have a responsibility to change the tide from ignorance to education, and from racial hierarchies to equality, and what better way to do that than by utilizing our right to vote. Reverend Jackson sees the fruits of giving students this power of legislation to make the change we’ve been marching for and demanding for so long.
When Reverend Jackson started registering students to vote right then and there in Old Cabell, I was intrigued by his urgency for action. Reverend Jesse Jackson wasn’t playing any games and he wasted no time. He had his priorities set on enabling students of color to have a say in what’s going on in Charlottesville. I realized all of this in that auditorium as this influential man reinforced our legislative power -a power no one can take from us.
Higher education and economic growth for people of color–these are the goals for Reverend Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. The empowerment of minority groups across America comes with a price, and that price is the responsibility to use our civic duties in the face of racism and hate. As President of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, I am making it clear that the first priority is voter registration. If there is any urgency to extinguish torch wielding white supremacy within Charlottesville, the first response must be to vote. This is a true freedom of speech that yields real results. Already, the coalition has had its first interest meeting in which goals for our formation were established. An important goal for this coalition to gain a foothold in furthering people of color on Grounds is to establish diversity amongst minorities of color- Africans, African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Middle Easterners, Indians- any and all ethnicities. With this unity through diversity established, Rainbow/PUSH will work to become recognized as a CIO on Grounds. This trajectory towards legitimacy and power in diversity is the first step towards change. The meeting left us then with the goal of voter registration training for students who wish to register other students. Getting this started at UVa from scratch can be timely, but still more than necessary. A second interest meeting will be advertised very soon.
If there’s one hope Reverend Jackson left me with, it’s this: As people of color, let’s continue to march, vote, register others, run for office, own black businesses, teach children, lead the people, get that degree, represent your race, unite others outside your race, love, love, love and stay educated on the empowerment of minorities across Grounds.