By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
Addressing the 358th commencement class of nearly 1,000 Chicago State University (CSU) graduates on April 28, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. called them “the lineage of resistance to racist culture,” who in the best tradition of “Freedom Fighters” led the state’s fight for equal educational funding.
Saying the graduates have “big shoes to fill,” Rev. Jackson said CSU has helped to launch the careers of such greats as Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-7th), Dr. Margaret Burroughs, founder of the DuSable Museum, Olympic medal winner Willie White, the late Jacoby Dickens, chairman of Seaway Bank and Trust and many more.
He, like CSU President Thomas Calhoun, thanked the Illinois Black Caucus for their united front in getting the institution $21.1 million of the $600 million they got Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign during the budget impasse, but he also thanked the students for their relentless protests, marches and demands for full funding from the state.
Jackson paid a special tribute to former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones who fought for funding for CSU when he was in office and for the building of the Emil and Patricia A. Jones Convocation Center, where the commencement was held. “What a role model he is for us all,” said Jackson referring to former Senator Jones. “When we look around at the rising buildings of this campus, we must never underestimate the loving contributions of Emil Jones.”
“Emil has always known what should be obvious to everyone, even to out-of-touch politicians in Springfield: Black lives matter and Chicago State matters,” said Jackson looking over to former Senator Jones and his son, Senator Emil Jones, III. The Joneses were sitting with former Gov. Pat Quinn, CSU board of trustee members Nikki M. Zollar and Rev. Marshall Hatch, States Attorney nominee Kim Foxx, Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), Professor Jonathan Jackson, Rev. Paul Jakes and others sitting in the VIP section.
Jackson called CSU “an impressive place” that produces “the largest number of African American graduates in Illinois. One in six graduates of Illinois public universities come from CSU,” many who have struggled with “want and worry.”
“We must appreciate what the school has done with so little and the fact that CSU and its cousins around the country deserve so much more,” Jackson said referring to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s).
Making it clear, Jackson said while technically CSU is not an HBCU, “it fits squarely in that proud tradition…. It is a seldom told story that a large group of historically Black underfunded and poorly treated schools, representing just 3 percent of America’s colleges, produces a whopping 50 percent of Black lawyers, 40 percent of Black engineers, and the majority of Black public school teachers.
“CSU and its cousins make America better,” Jackson said. Explaining, he added, “The legal strategy that led to the death of Jim Crow…American apartheid… came from Howard and not from Harvard. The legal briefs that eventually won the right to vote, the crown jewel of our democracy, were largely written and filed by lawyers from HBCU’s.
Yet, Jackson said, with all of the road blocks erected during the budget impasse including being in danger of losing their MAP grants, closing programs and laying off professors, “the fight that broke open the door, that allowed some breathing room was led by the students and faculty at Chicago State including my son, (CSU) Professor Jonathan Jackson.”
With those odds defined, Jackson said the students were responsible for making dreams come true although for a while the pieces seemed to crumble. “This school has become the rallying point for liberation, dignity and consciousness. The lesson of CSU is that strong minds break strong chains.”
Attributing the strength and endurance of their fight for equal education to a “lineage of resistance to racist culture, slavery, segregation and marginalization. We have known the denial and the marginalization, underfunding, court suits and protests down through the years.”
He continued, “As you have rallied on this campus, held press conferences, gone to Springfield, challenged the flow of traffic, you are in the best tradition of freedom fighters.”
Looking out over a sea of bachelor, doctoral and master degree students, Jackson told them, “You are part of that lineage and deserve specific congratulations. Your protests made graduation for other schools possible.
“You survived the wheezing bullet, police brutality and killings. Yet today you sit here proud graduates. You have been odds busters and dream makers.” He added the fight impacted not just their own status, but also their families, the city and the nation. But you don’t win just because you are right. You win because you fight and because you fight smart,” said Jackson.
Asking the students to give back to CSU because as the CSU President Calhoun said they will forever be a part of the school’s fabric, Jackson quoted the words of Langston Hughes and ended by giving his signature charge: “Keep hope alive.”