Convocation Address by 
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
President and Founder
Rainbow/PUSH Coalition


Let me express my thanks to you Mr. President, Dr. McKenzie, and members of the Board for this expression of support for our efforts in our work to make our nation better and our world more secure. We thank you Dr. Swygert in a very special way.  We cannot take your presidency and its success for granted. All presidents are not so successful. Howard is on a high, on a roll, on a growth pattern in no small measure because of your insight, your integrity, your ability, and your reinvestment in us as a people. Let’s give Dr. Swygert a big hand. Shall we? Give it up for Dr. Swygert in a big way.

To the Board and faculty administrators, student body representatives present today and friends at large, it is a joy to return here. I want to congratulate this outstanding musical aggregation because in some sense we come to college, to university to be lifted "up."  There must be some sense of up. We have idioms and pieces of subculture. But, we come to the university for some sense of polish, the polish, the sense of "up." To get something we didn’t bring and to take it back to where we came from and one got the sense that there had been some preparation and some growth. The students who sang today did not bring that here but they will take it away from here. A big hand for them. I gave the commencement here in 1970 and that was the first year that the Howard gospel choir was able to sing at the commencement led by Richard Smallwood. Howard was just breaking out of the tradition of Opus 45 with one of Richard Smallwood's arrangements of the Lord’s Prayer and there was a little shouting here and there and Dr. Mordecai Johnson and others had to be taken, I think,  to the hospital for resuscitation. Some of you remember that.

The Freedom Symphony: Giant Visions and Bold Dreams. 

It is a delight to address this proud body on this august occasion.  We gather here at a propitious time. On the eve of a new millennium. At the end of a tumultuous century.  In the throes of a global economic transformation.

It is a good time to reflect–-on where we are going, and how far we have come.  On the steep hills and raging rivers that lie before us.  But, also the towering mountains and wide oceans that we have already overcome.

Howard is distinct. It is the jewel of the historically black colleges. You should be proud of that. That makes A&T the crown jewel.  I can’t wait for homecoming this year.  But, at the same time, it is an international school embodied in an international capital.  It is both Washington and the world.  There are few institutions and not many people who can make that claim.

Today, I want to talk to you about how we look at the world, about the freedom symphony, and the movements that remain to be written, about the challenges that call out to you.

“And we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants, and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.”  Numbers 13:33.

The quotation comes from the Old Testament, but similar passages could be found in the Koran, or in the Hindu myths.

As the passage makes clear, we cannot be big and little at the same time.  If we see others as giants and ourselves as grasshoppers, so others shall see us.

You can’t get majority answers asking minority questions.  You can’t get major blessings praying minor prayers.  Big ideas, big dreams, big expectations and big victories are beyond those with minority complexes.  We must see ourselves through a big door, not through a keyhole.

Without vision, the Bible says, the people perish.  A grasshopper’s vision is limited; its horizons are small.  We must see ourselves as giants, with vision enough for an entire nation, not just the ghetto part of it.

Justice is not a minority vision; it is a universal goal.  Equal opportunity is not a minority agenda; it serves the entire society.  Freedom is not a minority value; it is the unalienable right of every man and woman.

Dr. King was an African-American minister in the segregated South.  But, his vision and his courage made him a world leader. They sing, "We Shall Overcome," in China, Poland, Indonesia, Africa, and Nicaragua.  His words, his dream, incite passion across the globe not just the map.  

The Bible says we shall be transformed by the renewal of our minds.  We are not grasshoppers; we are giants – if we allow ourselves to aim high enough, look far enough, work hard enough, and transform ourselves and the world, our destiny and that of our nation are in our hands.

Recently, we gathered in the wake of a remarkable triumph for those who fight for justice in this land.  We witnessed the entire nation celebrate a great victory for civil rights.  We saw the principle of affirmative action embraced warmly in every corner of the country.

I refer, of course, to the victory of the American women in the World Cup soccer tournament. Their victory–-made possible by Title IX that leveled the playing field between boys and girls, men and women–-is the ultimate testament of the power of affirmative action.  And, America’s embrace of these women is a testament to the political appeal of affirmative action. But, only if we overcome our minority complex and are big enough to see a majority answer. Affirmative action has been amazingly successful in expanding opportunities for all Americans.  It is a conservative remedy to include those who have been historically excluded from opportunity based on gender and race. Exclusion represents walls and limits growth; inclusion is the key to growth.  The poison pen of race baiting has distorted the effect of affirmative action.  Today, affirmative action is a majority issue, not a minority issue: 36 percent of our work force is white males; and the beneficiaries are mostly white women and women of other hues.  Title IX–-people of color and the physically, differently able. By including the locked out, we have expanded the market of trained people, increased productivity and consumer strength.  Inclusion is not a zero sum gain; it expands the marketplace.  If we do not include the excluded, there will be more jobs than workers, as there are in some places now.  For example, in California, you either have to slow down production or import foreign workers or guest labor.  

As the century ends, we are winning.  In this conservative era, when too many seem to know the price of everything and the value of nothing, it is easy to get discouraged.  Many young people say to me that they would like to be committed to social change, but nothing is going on that is worth fighting for.

It can be at best a one dimensional view of life. We  have come a long way.  But it is worth remembering how far we have come.  But some don’t go past segregation/slavery just as a word to kind of whiff at the indentations there. We are winning.  We have changed the course of the nation. We have not won every skirmish; we have suffered casualties and harsh reversals. The road has been hard.  We’ve had mountains to climb. But, we are winning. We are on the right side of history.

As this century ends, we can look back on the past hundred years with a sense of hope and a sense of accomplishment.

America entered this century in a condition of shame.  A country locked in apartheid.  Only a generation away from slavery, legal slavery. Voting restricted to white males.  Segregation the law of the land. We are winning.

One hundred years later, much has changed.  We leave this century with a century of freedom’s progress.  Our dreams were stronger than the chains of our captors.  And, today our dreams are the dreams of all America, the world.

We appealed to the better angels of our natures.  We were willing to struggle.  We were willing to suffer in the cause of justice. And, we have prevailed.

Women have the right to vote. 

Segregation is against the law.

Voting Rights have been extended to all Americans.

Affirmative action opened locked doors and lifted glass ceilings that constricted the dreams of the vast majority.  We are winning.

If I were to write a Freedom Symphony, a Civil Rights Symphony, if you will, I know what the first three movements would be. There are four movements in a symphony. The first was the struggle to end slavery, the clash of ideas, of vision, of arms, the drumbeat of armies.  The second was the struggle to end legal segregation, the trumpets of freedom’s struggle, the drum roll of Dr. King’s call to sacrifice. The third movement, the struggle to grant all Americans the right to vote, the firm beat of marching feet.

The fourth movement remains to be written. It is the climax, the hardest one to compose, the one for which the others were the prelude. It is the movement begun by Dr. King just before his death.

This is the struggle to provide shared economic security and justice for everybody.  To lift up the least of these–-underserved America–-black, white, brown, and red.  The struggle to insure a healthy start for all of God’s children.

The struggle to lift beyond ethnicity of the ethics, beyond culture of the character.  Most poor people are not black or brown; they are white, female, young, and un-represented.  Most poor people are not on welfare. They work everyday. They catch the early bus.  They raise other people’s children. They clean our dormitories. They drive cabs.  They cook in the school cafeteria. They work in fast food restaurants. They wipe our feverish bodies in the hospitals. They cool our scorching fevers. They empty our bedpans, our slop jars. No job is beneath them and yet when they get sick, they cannot lie in the bed they made up everyday.There are challenges before us, this land is our land.

The struggle for equal access to education, for investment in the promise of the young. The struggle for health care for every American, of whatever color or creed.  For shared access to capital, for green-lining the regions that have been red-lined–-from the south side of Chicago to southern Ohio, from the Appalachian Hills to the Mississippi Delta.

This fourth movement represents a shift in how we think and how we act.  A shift from the horizontal race gap to the vertical resource gap, the access to capital gap.   When Howard plays its game this weekend, if the score runs 800 yards east and west, there will not be a single point on the scoreboard. All scores are north and south. 

This is the unfinished business of our struggle.

Dr. King knew that a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural campaign for economic justice had to be the final movement for the civil rights struggle.

He knew that we had to move beyond voting rights, beyond public accommodations to build a majority movement with a majority vision---one that challenged not only our public institutions, but our private institutions as well--–the corporate boardrooms, the suites of investment bankers, the offices of pension fund managers.  We had to move from Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to Wall Street, LaSalle Street and Silicon Valley.

Dr. King’s dream was derailed.  He was assassinated marching with sanitation workers organizing a union in Memphis.  Then the War on Poverty was lost in Vietnam. To Watergate. And then torpedoed by Ronald Reagan. By the Cold War. By a quarter century of conservative reaction. By raging deficits. Deferred, disdained, derailed–-until today.

All the changes of this century that made America great–-women’s right to vote, workers’ right to organize, desegregation in the military, ending legal apartheid in 1954, the integration of baseball, football, basketball, soccer, the Supreme Court–-labor laws, OSHA, EEOC, OFCCP, the 64 Public Accommodations Bill, the Right to Vote, Title VII, Title IX–-none of these changes came from the White House down. They all came from your house and my house up.  We have the power to change the course of the nation.

We must not sit around waiting for some candidate to deliver us.  We have the power in a democracy. We determine humane priorities; we must project vision, build a coalition and out-work forces of resistance.

Dignity Day 1998–-the day that we built the midnight train to Georgia and gave Newt Gingrich a one-way ticket. We, the people, have the power.

Today, we stand at an historic turning. The Cold War is over. Deficits have become surpluses.  The conservative reaction is spent and in disarray. The old excuses are over.  The lid on our imagination has been lifted. The time has come to fulfill Dr. King’s legacy.

We have changed the room.  Now is the time to change the house. And, to do that, we have to change the House, and the Senate, too.

We changed the room.  We unlocked doors. We got a seat at the table. Affirmative action helps to put the majority in the room–-women, blacks, Hispanics, browns, Asians, native Americans. Equal treatment may still be slighted; but, its value is beyond argument.

We have changed the way the majority of Americans think about race.  Not just race, civil rights, women’s rights, environmental protection – these are mainstream values now, as conservatives found out, to their astonishment. California Governor Pete Wilson thought he could pave a road to the White House by running against affirmative action, immigrants, unions and choice.  He earned himself a well-deserved rest; he is now in private life.

We have lifted the burden of race.  Yes, race conflict is still with us.  Racism still abides. Discrimination has not been erased.  But, we can say with confidence and some pride, we have changed the room.  We have lifted the legal obstacles to race. That process was thought out on the campus of Howard University, not Harvard, not Yale, but Howard.  The process, the free America came from this campus. We have lightened the burden of race, but that was the first necessary step. It is not the last step.

Now that we’ve changed the room, we must change the house.  Now we have to redress the growing divide between upstairs and downstairs, between two nations–-one affluent, one struggling; one locked in gated communities, one locked in no-exit neighborhoods.

We must wage a campaign that encompasses the hopes of all Americans, the promise of positive change of all races and faiths. Change the entire house. 

We must shift our focus from the race gap to the resource gap, the structural gap, the divide between upstairs and downstairs. The resource gaps affect the white folks who live in Appalachia just as surely as it affects the black folks who live on the west side of Chicago. They affect the whites  who have struggled in rural towns of the nation’s heartland as well as they impact the brown folks of Corpus Christi, Texas, or East L.A.

We must close the North-South divide.

Forty-six million Americans without health insurance, just one serious illness away from financial ruin.  This is not right.

Fourteen million American children–-one in four – growing up in poverty, struggling for adequate food and shelter in the world’s wealthiest nation. This is not right. Welfare is down, poverty is up. Something is wrong with this picture.

Fifteen hundred Americans die from cancer everyday.  We must possess the resources to boost research and end cancer as we know it; yet, we fail to do so.  This is not right.

We are a nation of first-class jails and second-class schools. The jail-for-profit industry, a source of international grace and shame. Two million Americans in jail (500,000 more than in China). We are six percent of the world population, they are 25 percent.  Ninety percent of high school dropouts. Ninety percent of those who dropped out of high school are in jail. Ninety-two percent of those in jail are functionally illiterate. Three out of four who are locked up and released from jail go back. Our public housing money goes mostly to building stadiums and prisons. Mass incarceration is not an answer. It is a social and human catastrophe.  We must lead the whole nation.  If you are trapped in the back of a car, you’re in the trunk, and its about to go overboard.  Don’t lay in that trunk talking about race pride.  Because if the car goes over the cliff they will not push an eject button. You must grab the whole car and save everybody just to save yourself.  We have the power to move beyond ghetto politics and have a vision for the nation and the whole world.  That’s why I never have any doubt about being the President and being qualified. They asked me on one occasion if you were to win for real, like really win for real and you go to the White House, I mean how would you manage to live in the White House?  I said it would be easy, man, I grew up in public housing. Just have a few more people to help my Grandmama keep it clean. 

Income and wealth inequality in America is at new records.  Wages are not only beginning to make up some lost ground---while CEO salaries soar through the roof.  The average CEO now makes over 400 times what the average worker makes. The poorest workers do the hardest toil. They take the early bus and get the minimum wages.  

The challenge and the change.  This challenge-–to build the fourth movement of the freedom symphony–-cannot be done on a national stage alone. The economy is global now. Global corporations and banks produce, distribute, market, and sell goods across the world. Transportation, communications, technology weave north to south and east to west.

Last year, I had the privilege of traveling with the President in his historic tour of African nations, the first American president to visit sub-Saharan Africa. Now the Senate said the trip cost too much. It didn’t cost too much, it took too long. There he saw what many of us know: proud peoples, rich cultures, nations big and small finding their way in the global economy. Africa, hold up your head, Africa! Africa subsidized America’s development. Twenty years of work without wages, is a subsidy. Raw materials below market value is a subsidy. We got celebration at Ellis Island; we got wealth from Gory Island. Today we import more oil from Africa than the Middle East. The only airplane in Kennedy Airport: one going to L.A., one going to Senegal; you get there the same time. It's that close. Africa is the creditor; the US and Europe are the debtors.  Africa, hold high your head. All we want is one set of rules.  If we can in fact fight the human rights in Kosovo; if we offer Kosovo $30 billion to fight, and two billion dollars for reconstruction and zero for Sierra Leone. That is not right. We want one set of rules. Zero for Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Congo! We want a budget that looks like the creditor. That affirms human rights by one yardstick.

This new global economy does not work very well for working people here, for struggling people there.  Private capital is now the engine of growth. Most investment takes place in the North in already advanced industrial countries.  Eighty percent of that which goes to developing nations goes to only 20 countries, much of it to China. Africa is largely written off.  Its nations are tied to the global economy, but as producers of commodities whose prices have been falling. Its governments are under great pressure from crippling debt burdens, insistent creditors and the ever-present International Monetary Fund.  We must forgive Africa’s debt. The Pope is right, forgive the debt and let the nations grow.

So our struggle to write the fourth movement of the Freedom Symphony must prevail.

We can move forward on this common ground.  We have the strength, the vision to join our brothers and sisters in Appalachia and in Watts, the west side of Chicago, and the south side of Texas. March together because it is in our common interest to do so.

Heal the breach is how we changed the room and  how we can now renovate the house. It is how we can challenge Wall Street on its own terms.

The combined market–-America’s population consists of 60 million people of color.  $600 billion in annual earnings.  Fifteenth in the world, ahead of Mexico, Switzerland, Indonesia and India.

Our work on Wall Street has been turned into a presidential initiative. The President’s trip across America for New Markets because we see in the under-served areas with unutilized talent, money, market, talent and location.  If a fish had every capacity except to negotiate, it probably could not survive. To live in capitalism and don‘t know the science of capital you cannot breathe fully and wholly.  We must teach our children the stock market game.  We cannot go forward beyond slavery, free; beyond segregation, free; right to vote, free; and entrapped by credit card debt.  If there is a capital for bright students and teachers, high in academics, yet trapped by credit card debt, living paycheck to paycheck, bailing out with lotto tickets and gambling boats.  We must live by choice and by plans not by chance and rolls. We must go from consumers and workers to producers, investors and partners.  We must break the cycle of the debt culture.

These challenges are not for those who see through grasshopper eyes. They require the vision of giants, the creativity of geniuses, the energy of little genies.

They are beyond the scope of any one of us; but, they are not beyond the capacity of all of us together.  When we come together, our cause is just, our minds are made up, we have won.  And, we can keep on winning.  I look across this century and I look at the Williams sisters in the Open, and I look at Tiger Woods on that golf course, and I look at Sammy Sosa hitting those  home runs.  I cannot separate Sammy Sosa from Jackie Robinson having black cats dropped in that dugouts while his teammates either laughed or looked away.  I cannot separate those girls from Althea Gibson or Tiger Woods from Charlie Sifford. We must not be one-dimensional.  We have come over mountains and oceans.  We are winners.  Hold your head high.  We are winners.  The fascists lost.  The segregationists Bull Connor, George Wallace, Hitler, lost. We are the winners.

And so now the struggle continues, let nothing break your spirits.  No generation has the luxury of being detached from the struggle or the mere luxury of reflection.  At Florida A&M, two bombs exploded this month on campus, one just two days ago.  We are going down there Sunday to be with the students at Florida A&M.  Terrorist attacks with students at Florida or Howard–-it has happened before.  The bombs exploded in Birmingham, in Montgomery, in Oklahoma City.  For Mandela, 27 years in jail.  Terrorist attacks. When the bombs fall on you the storms of life rage. There are storm lessons:  (a) don’t panic; (b) don’t retreat until all are safe.  None are safe; there is no hiding place, whether it's a church in Texas, or high school in Colorado, or synagogue in L.A.  We must stop glorifying violence as a solution for conflict and turn to each other not on each other.  Turn pain into power, register and vote, study and learn.  Strong minds break strong chains.  Strong minds break strong chains.

So, I look to the next century with unbounded hope, high expectations, great optimism.  The road is long and hard.  I am willing to work and run on, I’m in no way tired.  We can lift this nation to new heights, if we think big enough, work hard enough, act bold enough.  Don’t wallow with the grasshopper complex. You are giants.  Turn your scars into stars. You are giants with giant applications.  God does not make orange juice, he makes oranges, you’ve  got to peel it, you’ve got to squeeze it.  All our brains are a genius orange that must be squeezed; you’ve got to squeeze the genius out.  Study the genius out, be more determined, get up earlier, work harder, run faster and know the context of your travels. I was sitting on the stage with Vice President Gore and Mr. Babbitt, Secretary of  Interior, in New Hampshire. We were sitting there and we would be in the paper the next day and a person would say, “They were sitting there equal; Jessie Jackson was sitting there and it was all equal.”  No, it wasn’t equal because I came further to get there. No, we had to come from further to get there.

This central biblical assertion is: Is there anything too hard for God?  It’s is a rhetorical question.  Nothing is too hard for God. Tyrants, tyranny, oppressors come and go, but our God has the power, if we have the faith.  There’s nothing  too hard for God.  And, there is nothing too good for us. We are inheritors of the Godly tradition. Don’t sit here today without a sense of history. Without the history you have a sense of hysteria and you panic quickly.  There’s this story in Greek mythology of this freak, Zeus freak; born full-grown; never came to a mother’s womb; never was a father’s bragging piece; I got a son on the way; never nurtured on the mother’s breast; never taught the finer little bitty things of life; never taught a sense of manners; no sense of right and wrong; no sense of ethics or manners; no character; no rewards or punishments; no inner strength development; no capacity to take storms, and they do come suddenly every now and then. He was just born full-grown, no context.  No sense of obligation; no history to motivate him forward; a kind of born full-grown without context. We didn’t just happen to get here today. There’s a context here.  I asked Jessie, Jr. one time, “Son what’s the value of  going from Washington to L.A. by airplane, what’s the upside.”  He said, “Dad, its obvious. You get there quicker. You can eat breakfast in Washington, you can have lunch in L.A. You don’t have to stay in a hotel in Washington or L.A. You can come back and be home that night. It’s technology.”  I said "You’re right. Now what is the downside of going from Washington to L.A. so fast.” He said, “There does not seem that there are obvious downsides.”  "Well, the downside, Son, is that when you move that fast you miss details; there are no curves in the road; there are no changing colors of flowers; there are no creeks; there are no insects; there are no rabbits; there are no animals; the stock of life is missed when you travel over details too fast."  We have details.  We have an inner, an infrastructure. We are not isolated, we are insulated. There is something within, there is an inner, we are developed, we are whole, we are mature people.

So, if my people who are called by my name would humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways then God would forgive our sins and we will hear from heaven and God will heal our land.  It’s healing time, it’s hope time, it’s morning time. God bless you. I love you very much.

I am somebody
I am somebody
Respect me, protect me, never neglect me
I am somebody
Red and yellow, brown, black and white
We’re all precious in God’s sight
Everybody is somebody
My mind is a pearl
I can learn anything in the world
My mind is a pearl
I can learn anything in the world
If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it
I am somebody
Stop the violence, save the children
Stop the violence, save the children
Down with dope, up with hope
Down with dope, up with hope
Down with dope, up with hope
Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive.  Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive.