In an impromptu visit to Emiliano Zapata Street Academy in Oakland on Tuesday, Rev. Jesse Jackson sat down in a circle with students to discuss police violence against people of color and how today’s movement for racial justice can spark change.
Teacher Maya Semans and Principal Gina Hill were attending a fundraiser for their school at Pican restaurant in Oakland Monday night when they noticed Jesse Jackson having dinner elsewhere in the restaurant.
They invited him to come speak to students at the school, and he agreed to come the next day.
The students talked about their feelings about being harassed by police and police violence experienced by friends and family members.
Some spoke about the lasting pain and fear they feel about the killing of Oscar Grant, who was shot by a BART police officer at the Fruitvale BART station on New Year’s Day in 2009.
Weighing heavily on the discussion was the statistic that has gone viral since the Ferguson, MO protests began: Every 28 hours, police in the U.S kill an unarmed Black person.
“I don’t like to think about what’s happening in this city, even though it comes to my attention that its happening all across America, all across the world matter of fact,” said ninth-grader Lamar Miller, reflecting on the shooting of Oscar Grant. “Its not okay. I don’t like to think of the city that I grew up in as just violence and destruction.”
Rev. Jackson praised the students’ energy and insight, saying, “Life is connected – history is unbroken. This is not a new struggle. Each generation has had its own fight.”
Discussing the need to be willing to face society’s hostility, he pointed out that people began to love Martin Luther King Jr. only after his death, not when he was still alive and fighting for justice.
“People have a way of loving martyrs when they’re dead,” Rev. Jackson said. “But he died a very hated man.”
Young people are so strong and are coming together because they have been hurt so much, said a young man named Tyheir Bolden. “We won’t take no for an answer,” he said.
“This is the 21st Century. Why are we still having racism?” Asked a young woman named Mika.
“We have a lot of anger in us. The older generation says we are crazy or stupid. But we have so much anger,” said Alysia Oliver.
“We’re really the voice that you guys need to hear,” said Oliver, a 10th grader, who feels the recent movement should be more inclusive of younger people.
Jackson said he was impressed with the teachers at Street Academy who regularly engage students in constructive dialogue around these issues.
“Don’t self degrade; don’t diminish yourself,” Jackson said to students.
“Where there is life, there is hope. Where there is life, there is responsibility. Where there is hope, there is nothing you cannot achieve,” he said.
The Emiliano Zapata Street Academy is an Oakland public school. It is located at 417 29th St. in Oakland and can be reached at (510) 874-3630.