Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson delivered a moving message to a packed audience this past Sunday at Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church in Richmond.
Rev. Jackson weighed in on what he sees as a continued struggle for the Black community to gain social equality in society. He likened the struggle for voting rights during the 1960s to the current fight to end diversity disparities that exist within major corporations’ boardrooms and workforce.
“What we now have is disparity by class and culture,” Jackson said. “Too few got too much.”
Jackson challenged the audience to join the fight to close the “opportunity gap,” by holding corporations accountable, particularly corporations in Silicon Valley where he recently convened a meeting to promote diversity in the tech industry.
He reminded people that the Civil Rights Era may have ended, but the struggle has not yet been won.
Rev. Jackson said: “Some of us talk about ‘back in the civil rights age.’ I think, ‘when did it end?’”
The packed audience of community members, clergy and elected officials burst into laughter and roaring applause.
Jackson briefly touched on police and community relations, a topic that has fueled protests across the country in recent weeks.
“Police shouldn’t shoot people, and people shouldn’t shoot police. They are the gatekeepers, they are not holding us back. It’s the institutions, not the police, that inhibit upward mobility,” he said.
Rev. Jackson said the “Black Lives Matter” movement is a response to the rising number of African-American men killed by the police, which is fueled by a “fire bomb of poverty.”
The problem can in part be addressed by making more job opportunities available to these men, he said.
Jackson shared his thoughts on the Academy Award-nominated film “Selma,” which he believed romanticized the struggle leading up to the passage of the Voter Rights Act of 1965.
“You’d think we just crossed the bridge and got the right to vote. But there was so much more before, and there is more after,” Jackson said.
In his final remarks, Jackson encouraged community members to come to the altar and sign up in support of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Richmond Chapter, which will have details forthcoming for interested members.
Jackson founded the Rainbow PUSH Coalition in 1996 to combat discrimination and racism in society and the economy.
Prior to Rev. Jackson’s speech, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt presented a proclamation declaring January 25 “Rev. Jesse Jackson Day” in Richmond.
“It’s an exciting day for me and Richmond,” Butt said as he introduced Rev. Jackson and presented him with a certificate. The audience rose and applauded.