Jealous urges people to choose change

Jan. 19, 2014 @ 10:46 PM

A call for action was issued Sunday at Duke University’s 2014 Service of Celebration for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “50 Years: Backwards or Forward?”

Benjamin Jealous, former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People president and CEO, encouraged the crowd In Duke Chapel,  to become active and try to change at least one thing they think is wrong in society.

“It’s not enough to just fight the good fight,” he said. “You must be willing to win the good fight. You must have the courage to win the good fight.

“There must come a time when one must take a stand, not because it’s safe or it’s popular but because it’s right,” said Jealous. “Make a choice to be active. There’s already a silent majority in this state that believes in justice.”

Delivering the keynote address, Jealous said that he grew up with men who knew some of the great civil rights leaders of the past and routinely shared stories of their time with them.

“The blessing was that they knew these great leaders as men,” he said. “They remind us that these giants weren’t seen as giants but as regular people. The implication was that anyone could be giants.

“The time of grasshoppers turning into giants can’t be over,” said Jealous.

He shared several gems he’s picked up along the way, including his grandmother saying “we got what we fought for but lost what we had,” and his father’s, “don’t let perfect get in the way of the good.”

Duke University President Richard Brodhead said that Jealous is a reminder that the Civil Rights Movement derived its power from the old, not-so-old and the young.

“We can’t give a good education to anyone if we don’t open our doors to everyone,” Brodhead said. “Intolerable behavior can be changed. A difference can be made.”

Brodhead said that Duke observed separate but equal on its campus in early years with whites as students and faculty and blacks as janitors and cafeteria workers. He said that staff agitation helped push the university to integrate and admit its first black students in the fall of 1963 following King’s speech at the march on Washington.

“They must have had that speech ringing in their ears,” Brodhead said.

Durham Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden said that Durham wrote the book on how to generate positive action from problems.

“Let’s resolve to touch the life of someone, especially our young people. Durham has the heart, determination and grit to turn things around,” she said. “It’s a part of our culture. The people of Durham truly embody Dr. King’s vision for the people.”

Nourhan Elsayed of the Muslim Student Association lit a candle for peace, hope and justice during the ceremony, highlighting that people of varying faiths have to work together to right societal wrongs. Rachel Fraade of the Jewish Student Union explained the importance and symbolism of the candle.

Also participating in the ceremony was the Collage Dance Company, which led a processional at the start of the event with drumming and dancing. The 100 Men in Black performed, including a song from South Africa in honor of Nelson Mandela and his efforts to end apartheid in that nation.

Duke senior Marcus Benning, president of the Black Student Alliance, received a standing ovation for his speech, as he talked about why the caged bird sings, paying tribute to writer Maya Angelou and connecting the past and the present.

Benning said that the civil rights movement was characterized by leaders, “genuine freedom fighters” who spoke outside of their traditional realms on issues that were much bigger than themselves.

“The approach to recent political changes will call for an approach that is intersecting, multifunctional and collaborative,” he said. “Even cages cannot contain greatness.”