Famed civil rights leader Jesse Jackson gave students at DeKalb County’s McNair High School an uplifting message just in time for the graduation season.
“Students must make the right choices today. They say children are our future, but I disagree with that. The children are our right now,” Jackson told McNair’s student body. “Down with dope, up with hope. Kids need to realize their mind is a pearl, and they can learn anything in the world. You can be anything you want to be. If you apply yourself, there is nothing you can’t achieve. A teacher, engineer, a lawyer, you can be anything if you make achieving and making a contribution top priorities.”
Jackson was in town on behalf of the civil and human rights group he founded in 1971, the Rainbow Push Coalition. He was on a mission to visit Fortune 500 companies and stakeholders in the Atlanta area to increase hiring opportunities for minorities. He said it was important to make a stop at the school because of its namesake.
“Ronald McNair went to college with no money and asked professors and the dean to let him study there for free and told staff if he didn’t do well, they could kick him out immediately after the first semester. He obliviously did well. McNair later became an engineer, an astronaut and became one of the greatest minds of our age as a scientist and astronaut,” said Jackson. “His name alone embodies hope and the students here can learn a lot about the man that this school was named after.”
McNair Principal LaKeisha Walker said Jackson’s message was just what her students needed to hear.
“When Senator Gail Davenport told me Mr. Jackson had some free time, I had to make sure we were available to welcome him with open arms. Our students needed to hear a message of hope, a message that preaches the benefits of a quality education,” said Walker. “I was glad he (Jackson) touched on those issues and more. Anytime we can offer encouragement to our students, especially from a dignitary like this, we have to be all ears.”
Sen. Davenport, who represents Georgia’s D-44, covering Clayton and DeKalb counties, was able to bring Jackson to McNair, which is in her district, because she worked with Jackson for the Rainbow Push Coalition.
“I was so elated that Jesse Jackson could come to McNair. It’s always a good thing to have Jessie at a school because he is very engaging with students and offers so many valuable words of encouragement such as: The ground is no place for a champion, pick yourself up and dust yourself off for something better,” said Davenport. “Jesse Jackson, who is a civil rights giant, is a perfect example that it doesn’t matter where you come from. You can be anything you want to be if you are willing to pay the price and put in the required work to get there.”
Tiara Brooks, the school’s junior class president, said Jackson’s visit was a living-history lesson.
“We just learned about Jesse Jackson in February for Black History Month, so after I found out he was coming, I researched him more and all I can say is wow, he has done so much for our community and this nation,” said Brooks, who is 17. “My whole family was excited when they found out I would be introducing him. We consider it an honor.”
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