Leading civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson told Middlesex University students they must join the fight for universal access to education and jobs, urging them to reject negative connotations of “positive discrimination” and instead demand “positive access” based on ability rather than inheritance.
In his rallying cry to over 700 watching guests at the University’s campus in Hendon, he also focussed on the need for young people to engage in the political process.
Using his well-known refrain ‘I am somebody’, he told students: “One of you in your mind can have the cure for cancer or the passion to find drinkable water for everybody. Who knows, within this place, there could be the key to world peace? It can happen.”
Earlier in the week the lifelong campaigner and confidante of Martin Luther King had criticised Oxford and Cambridge universities for enrolling low numbers of black students, but he praised the ethnic diversity at Middlesex saying this had 'profound' benefits.
Jackson was later surrounded by the audience as he signed off with “Middlesex you keep dreaming. Keep fighting. You are the answer.”
The event was the final part a three University tour of the UK, with Rev Jackson also visiting Oxford and Cambridge to discuss race relations and the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech.
Proceedings began with remarks from Vice-Chancellor Michael Driscoll alongside BBC journalist and Middlesex professor Kurt Barling.
In his introduction to the former US Democratic presidential candidate Professor Barling told guests: “He [Jackson] may not have secured the nomination for the Presidency in 1984 or 1988, although he ran his opponents pretty close. But, make no mistake, there would have been no President Barack Obama without Reverend Jesse Jackson.”
As Rev Jackson met guests, Middlesex alumnus Simon Woolley who is now director and one of the founders of Operation Black Vote, took to the stage to urge students to participate in politics.
View the picture gallery of the event on our facebook site.