NAACP chief to Pittsburgh youth: Principled people hold the power
According to NAACP president Benjamin Jealous, there are two kinds of power: organized money and organized people.
Mr. Jealous tried to convince about 200 area high school students Wednesday morning that groups of committed, principled people can always overcome organized money.
His appearance at the Pittsburgh Public Theater, Downtown, came immediately before students saw a matinee of "Thurgood," a play about the man who helped the NAACP win the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case and who would become the first African-American Supreme Court justice.
Rob Zellers, the theater's education director, said the event was organized to add new layers of meaning to the play.
Citing issues such as gay rights and restrictions on voting, Mr. Zellers said, "[The play] could be made meaningful if we could connect some of the dots between Thurgood Marshall's life and some of the challenges we have today."
Mr. Jealous celebrated the achievement represented by Thurgood Marshall but warned that the promise of equal rights has not yet been achieved.
To highlight that point, Mr. Jealous led the Pledge of Allegiance and asked whether students thought there is actually "liberty and justice for all" in the United States.
"Raise your hand if you think that maybe the country you live in hasn't delivered that all the way through," Mr. Jealous said. "That maybe not everybody in this country has equal access to justice. ... Maybe they feel like if you're born in East Liberty you don't have the same opportunities as if you were born in Squirrel Hill."
In a talk that criticized voter ID laws and gun show loopholes, Mr. Jealous emphasized education -- and the achievement gap in particular -- as an example of a problem that persists because of discrepancies in school funding.
"In too many instances, people go to schools where everyone is white ... or everyone is black," Mr. Jealous said. "[Brown v. Board of Education] has transformed every aspect of this country except that for which it was intended."
Mr. Jealous oscillated between words of inspiration -- "we want you involved to make a great future for your children" -- and warning about the road ahead: "Do [state legislators] believe you're headed for prison or that you are headed for college?"
Gabriel Kelly, a Franklin High School senior, felt Mr. Jealous' message was about change.
"He wants us to be passionate about the things we care about and be willing to change it," Mr. Kelly said. "There's always something we can do."
Mr. Jealous also called on students to make a list of issues that make them angry and resolve to address at least one of them.
Charlie Orr, a junior at Winchester Thurston School, said he'd focus on disarming the Lord's Resistance Army, encouraging recycling and making people more aware of their privileges.
When asked about his own privileges, Charlie said, "Being in the minority today gives us a chance to be exposed to issues we aren't usually exposed to."
First Published March 14, 2013 12:00 am