October 6, 2010
Last week I attended the inaugural speech for Loyola’s African and African American studies programs. The key note speaker was the NAACP’s president and CEO, Benjamin Todd Jealous. The speech was very engaging and powerful to me, but in a completely different way than I expected. I expected a speech given by the NAACP president for the inauguration of the African American studies program to focus more on race and racial equality. And for a portion of Mr. Jealous’ speech he did discuss his own experience with racism such as when he was attempting to stop the Mississippi governor from converting three public colleges in Mississippi into prisons. But more than anything, Mr. Jealous talked about a theme that could be universally accepted by his entire audience of bright college students: Pursuing dreams.
What Mr. Jealous talked about more than anything was the power of big dreams. Benjamin Todd Jealous called on each of us sitting in the audience to dream big for a number of reasons. He pointed out that big dreams not only keep you motivated in your life, but they offer structure as well. I thought this message was extremely powerful because everyone in the audience could relate to it. Everyone has a seemingly unrealistic dream squirreled away in the back of their mind, and Mr. Jealous called each of us to set that dream into motion.
If his call did not motivate his audience enough, Mr. Jealous related the story of Joteka Eddy to us. Joteka was sixteen years old and working at McDonald’s when she began her involvement in the National Coalition of the Abolishment of the Death Penalty. Ms. Eddy set her sights on this big dream of abolishment and made the decision to do all she could to make the death penalty illegal in the United States. Seven years later she accomplished this goal by making it illegal for children to suffer the death penalty. She also did this in three of the least racially diverse states in the country: South Dakota, New Hampshire and Wyoming. Joteka Eddy did all she could to make her dream a reality, and Mr. Jealous challenged us to do the same.
Another thing that stuck out to me during Mr. Jealous’ speech was how down to earth he was. This was a man who graduated from Columbia University, was a Rhode Scholar, and the NAACP president at just thirty seven years old. His credentials were so impressive, and yet he spoke to the crowd in such a conversational way that he drew in the entire audience. In addition, Mr. Jealous’ four year old daughter kept walking up to the podium to show him her art work. Rather than dismissing the child, Mr. Jealous looked up, smiled and commented on how being a parent is a full time job. Moments like these in his speech made him very relatable and down to earth, which as a whole made the audience respect Benjamin Todd Jealous not as a Rhode Scholar or as a major Civil Rights advocate, but instead as just a likeable man encouraging us to pursue our big dreams.
In addition, the Question and Answer session bolstered Mr. Jealous’ credibility. One audience member who is a student here and a member of the Tea Party, asked Mr. Jealous why the NAACP believed the Tea Party was racist and why don’t they support their movement. Rather than just dismissing these two claims, Mr. Jealous instead gave the student factual evidence as to how the Tea Party had treated him, such as scathing letters sent from Tea Party leaders to Mr. Jealous. Benjamin Jealous did a great job supporting his claims. Even if the students claims were based entirely on passion, Mr. Jealous used facts instead to prove his claim wrong. I found Mr. Jealous’s speech relatable to class, due to the varying strategies he used to not only connect with his audience, but also exemplify his point. Like so many authors we have studied, Jealous was able to address an underlying theme of individual empowerment while still keeping a light friendly tone.