Saturday, January 13, 2018
Chicago Honors Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. with Champion of Freedom Award
The city of Chicago honored the trailblazing career of Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. here Friday with prayers and music, speeches and standing ovations, as the civil rights icon and two-time presidential candidate received the Champion of Freedom Award at the 32nd Annual Interfaith Breakfast, celebrating the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Some of Chicago’s most prominent residents, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Melody Spann Cooper, chairman of Midway Broadcasting, John W. Rogers, Jr., chairman and CEO of Ariel Investments and activist priest, Father Michael Pfleger, of St. Sabina, took turns praising Rev. Jackson for his contributions to the city, country and world over more than 50 years of continuous service.
“Thank you for pushing open doors of corporate boardrooms to demand workforces of inclusion and opportunity,” Father Pfleger said to Rev. Jackson and the nearly 800 people attending the breakfast at the Marriott Marquis Chicago. “Thank you for your life long journey to tear down the walls of segregation and exclusion. Thank you for your courage to confront the NRA and their blood money that has been the hidden hand in this epidemic of violence. Thank you for being the consistent thread of your mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in fighting the three evils of militarism, poverty and racism.”
Rev. Jackson was one of Dr. King’s top aides. In 1966, Dr. King appointed Rev. Jackson, then a 25-year-old seminary student, to head Operation Breadbasket, the economic justice arm of the Civil Rights Movement. Two years later, he was with Dr. King on his last birthday – January, 15, 1968 – as Dr. King huddled with Rev. Jackson and the rest of his Southern Christian Leadership Conference staff in the basement of his Atlanta church, Ebenezer Baptist, to plan a massive anti-poverty protest in Washington D.C. called the Poor People’s Campaign.
“God blessed Rev. with the gift of longevity and Rev has blessed us with his gift of leadership,” Spann Cooper told the audience, adding, “He created the blueprint for Barack Obama to become America’s first African American president. President Obama could have the audacity of hope, because Rev. Jackson kept hope alive.”
The annual interfaith breakfast began during the administration of Mayor Harold Washington, Chicago’s first African American mayor, who Rev. Jackson worked mightily to get elected – twice. Friday, Mayor Washington’s interfaith, multicultural vision was on full display as prayers were offered by an Imam, a Rabbi, a Christian minister and a special advisor to the Cardinal, Father Clete Kiley.
“Almighty God, bless the brothers and sisters here this morning,” Father Kiley said. “Martin can be our guide, but it is up to us to act in the here and now. So together let us carry on the fight for equality and justice. Let us have the courage to resist the ugliness of racial, and ethnic and religious division. It roams around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us, says the Apostle. But let us resist. But most of all let us build the Beloved Community.”
Rogers, the investment firm CEO, said Rev. Jackson, who is 76, “just doesn’t admire a problem, but instead he rolls up his sleeves and goes to war for all of us” from “forcing local retailers to stock” African American magazines, newspapers, hair and skin care products to pressuring the major automakers in Detroit “to use minority supplies and open car dealerships” to convincing “the New York Stock Exchange to close on Dr. King’s birthday” to “most recently, in Silicon Valley, he showed up as a shareholder at annual meetings and caused Apple, Twitter, HP and Tesla to have their first African American directors.”
In a program note welcoming people to the breakfast, Mayor Emanuel noted that 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, “making today’s celebration even more important.”
Moments before Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968, he was joking with Rev. Jackson as they waited to go to dinner with civil rights movement colleagues.“It was Rev. Jackson,” the Mayor said as he introduced the civil rights legend, “who taught us we must turn to each other and not turn on each other.”
Visibly moved throughout the morning, Rev. Jackson thanked his wife of 55 years, Jacqueline L. Jackson, and his children, two of whom were in attendance – Santita, a cable news commentator and radio talk show producer, and Jonathan, the national spokesman for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition – for their love and support across the years of trials and triumphs. He also thanked many of his partners in the civil rights movement, including Reverends Willie Barrow, Ed Riddick, Clay Evans, Calvin Morris and Frank Watkins.
“In a world so cynical and greedy,” Rev. Jackson told the breakfast, “the moral high ground may seem impractical, but it’s the right ground. Dr. King hit in the head with a brick in Chicago, attacked by the press for challenging the war, killed in Memphis. Now there is a monument of him in Washington somewhere between Jefferson, Lincoln and Washington.”
Rev. Jackson reminded the audience that he is battling Parkinson’s disease, adding, “I’m not giving up or going out.”
“Don’t give up on hope,” he said. “Don’t give up on healing, love, non-violence. In all of my seeing I have never seen the righteous forsaken. Hold on, it’s dark, but the morning cometh.”
Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a multi-racial, multi-issue, progressive, international organization that was formed in December 1996 by the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. through merging of two organizations he founded Operation PUSH People United to Serve Humanity (estab. 1971) and the Rainbow Coalition (estab. 1984). With headquarters in Chicago and offices in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Oakland, the organization works to make the American Dream a reality for all citizens while advocating for peace and justice around the world. RPC is dedicated to improving the lives of all people by serving as a voice for the voiceless. Its mission is to protect, defend and gain civil rights by leveling the economic and educational playing fields while promoting peace and justice around the world.
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