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Former NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous urges students to organize, make a difference

By Marilyn Hernandez-Stopp '14 on January 24, 2014
Benjamin Todd Jealous

Benjamin Todd Jealous delivers the keynote address at Memorial Chapel. (Photo by Erica Hasenjager)

Benjamin Todd Jealous, the youngest president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, provided listeners with a roadmap for successful organizing during his MLK Week keynote address on Thursday night.

Jealous’s talk at Memorial Chapel was titled “The Rise, Fall and Rise of Social Movements.”

“This is normally a talk I give to organizers, to those who are committed to their cause,” Jealous said.

Jealous recalled his six-step recipe for championing an issue, but he emphasized the position of young people in the momentum of social movements.

“When young people are up front, there is a great future. When young people are out back or somewhere in the age-defined sandbox playing on the side, you’re in trouble,” he advised.


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MLK Week speech by Marshall Scott ’14


Jealous’s own journey began at age of 18 when he worked at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “I was young, I had been kicked out of college (for organizing student protests). I had distinguished myself as someone who was on the support staff but willing to stay later than most of the lawyers.”

Jealous, now a Rhodes scholar with degrees from Columbia and Oxford universities, has grown since his youthful days as a journalist and a community organizer; and his lecture gave students the chance to reflect on their own power.

“He was talking about how we can feel powerless in the face of adversity. But despite our age, our youth can in fact be an asset as we look to tackle our goals,” said Kathleen Maffei ‘14.

Jealous, who recently stepped down as NAACP president, ended by stating that social movements should adopt an “all-for-one and one-for-all” attitude.

“In the last three or four years, we’ve seen massive assaults on women’s rights, on affirmative action, on voters’ rights, on the rights to organize, and on the right to breathe clean air and drink clean water.”

“We decided to adopt the motto of the three-musketeers: ‘All for one, and one for all.’”

Students, faculty members, and staff were also invited to a private discussion with Jealous before the talk, where he addressed specific questions.

Bob Fullilove '66 speaks at an MLK Week workshop. He is associate dean for community and minority affairs and professor of clinical sociomedical sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University. (Photo by Erica Hasenjager)

Bob Fullilove ’66 speaks at an MLK Week workshop. He is associate dean for community and minority affairs and professor of clinical sociomedical sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University. (Photo by Erica Hasenjager)

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