Reverend Jesse Jackson continues to carry the torch that Dr Martin Luther King Jr. lit in the 1960s. He is the last of the prominent freedom marchers for Civil Rights. Inviting him to Middlesex University to address students was a leap of faith. After speaking at Oxford and Cambridge, would he get the rousing welcome his message of diversity deserved in one of the country's most ethnically diverse universities?
We needn't have worried. The waiting list for tickets was as long as those hundreds who got in. When it became obvious the event would be oversubscribed, Media and Performing Arts students decided it was important to have the historic event filmed.
We quickly deployed the skill sets being nurtured on the various Media degrees at Middlesex to showcase the event and "keep hope alive" – one of Jesse Jackson's famous mantras.
To drum up a strong vibe for the event, Marketing and PR students conceived a campaign around another Jackson slogan: "I am somebody." They walked the campus carrying a massive canvas, getting it signed by as many students as possible. On the night Jackson himself signed it. The canvas is now on display in the Grove building as a reminder of what students can achieve, acting professionally, in a short space of time. They also made a social media video of dozens of students proclaiming they were "somebody".
Meanwhile Performing Arts students were polishing their rendition of Bob Chilcott's "A Little Light Jazz Mass," which raised the roof on the night. Film students prepared a teaser film to introduce the audience to an abbreviated history of Jackson's run for the US Presidency.
The big ask though was to bring together students from Film and Television Production into 15 teams to capture the speech, and the event, on film. The speech has been released and is available on the University's YouTube channel (and embedded above). It is a triumph of student initiative and collaboration. The production qualities show that students are equipped to join the industry as soon as they graduate.
Part of our employability mission in the School of Media and Performing Arts is to teach students how to "think" and "do" simultaneously. Making it part of the Broadcasting Today stable is a nod to the success of that format in giving students industry best practice experience from their first year at Middlesex.
A documentary short on "The Day Jesse Came to Middlesex" is currently being finalised with a score being written by another Performing Arts student.
Jesse Jackson's visit was always about inspiration. A call to arms for students to recognise their gifts, nurture them and use them in the real world. The films to celebrate Jackson's visit will be released on DVD, again produced by students, in the summer. Keeping hope – and that momentous day in Middlesex's history – forever alive.