Jesse Jackson Speaks About Race, Activism at UC

Civil rights leader discusses racial equity, events in Cincinnati and at University of Missouri

click to enlarge Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke with students at UC Nov. 10.
Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke with students at UC Nov. 10.

Civil rights leader and former presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson visited the University of Cincinnati on Tuesday, speaking to students and activists for about 45 minutes on a number of topics related to recent national discussions around race, college activism and voting. Jackson’s remarks drew a packed house of about 100 at the school’s African American Cultural and Resource Center.

UC has been at the center of those conversations both locally and nationally after UC police officer Ray Tensing shot unarmed black motorist Samuel DuBose July 19 in neighboring Mount Auburn. The aftermath of that shooting has raised both renewed activism around racial inequities and racial tensions on UC’s campus.

Jackson has been in Cincinnati for the last two days, meeting with local ministers and business leaders before making his impromptu appearance at UC. During his talk, Jackson spoke about another university that has been a focus of the national debate on racial equity. Jackson returned often to recent events at the University of Missouri, where racial tensions in the past few weeks led to the resignations of university president Tim Wolfe and chancellor R. Bowen Loftin.

Student activists there staged protests and a grad student undertook a week-long hunger strike over racially charged incidents on campus and what they saw a subsequent lack of action by school administrators. The protests culminated in a move by university football players refusing to take the field until the hunger strike ended.

“It really shows the power of one dedicated person, one student who decided to fast to get everybody else’s attention,” Jackson said. “Sacrifice matters.”

Jackson encouraged students at UC to vote, to focus on academics and to be clear in demands for racial equity on campus and beyond.

“The agenda must correspond to the needs,” Jackson said about campus activism at UC, the University of Missouri and elsewhere. “The board of directors hire the president. The C-suites make decisions on a day to day basis. The faculty. The tenured professors whose jobs are secure in the academic world. The supplier contracts on this campus. The university lawyers. The advertising and marketing. All of this should be an agenda for change.”

A group at UC called the Irate8 that formed in the aftermath of the DuBose shooting has staged rallies, teach-ins and other peaceful efforts to advocate for black students on campus. The group is named for the 8 percent of the school’s student body that is black. The Irate8 points out Cincinnati’s population is 45 percent black and has pushed the UC administration to articulate a plan to boost diversity on the school’s main campus to better reflect the demographics of the city as a whole.

On Oct. 15, the Irate8 released a list of 10 demands for UC’s administration. In that list, the group asks that for establishment of campus-wide racial awareness training, disinvestment from any companies running private prisons, the hiring of at least 16 black staff and senior faculty members over the next three years and the doubling of the school’s percentage of black students on campus.

The group is also pushing for substantial reform to UC’s police force in the wake of the DuBose shooting, highlighting the large disparity between blacks and whites in stops and arrests by the department in the past year. In 2014, 17 whites and 52 blacks were stopped by the UC police force. Police issued 30 citations to whites that year and 119 to blacks.

Administrators say they’re working to address activist’s points. Meanwhile, racially charged statements similar to those that sparked tensions at the University of Missouri have cropped up on social media at UC, further increasing tensions at the school.

Despite those messages, however, Jackson said collaboration and diversity are the keys to success for activists at UC.

"The dream must include all of us," Jackson said, repeatedly admonishing student activists to build inclusive coalitions with other groups of all races on campus and beyond around student debt, voting access and other issues to achieve their goals. "The more people I include, the bigger my agenda gets."

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