By Michaela Shaffer
At the age of 43, Benjamin Jealous has accomplished more than some people do in a lifetime.
He served as the youngest national leader of the NAACP. He played major roles in local, state and national movements including the fight to end the death penalty and the fight against racial injustice. He now works in the Silicon Valley where he is focused on increasing the number of people of color in the technology industry.
On Feb. 19, York College students, faculty and members of the York community gathered in the Waldner Performing Arts Center to hear Jealous speak about his journey and what he has learned along the way.
As a young man, Jealous felt unsure of what he should do with his life. One day he wrote a list of everything that made him angry and eliminated the more trivial problems. He was left with six phrases so he closed his eyes and drew a circle. The phrase in the middle of the circle became his life goal – ending injustice in the justice system.
Through the years, he has played a large role in many social movements. He fought against a Mississippi governor intent on shutting down black colleges and turning them into prisons. He opposed the juvenile death penalty and continues to fight against the death penalty today.
Jealous learned a lot of strategies along the way. According to Jealous, activists should not presume that certain people are allies while others are not. He learned from experience that support can stem from even the most unexpected sources. Jealous also recommended that activists should talk to every group of people – the supporters, the opposition and the in-between in their quest for change.
Jealous stressed that people need to be aware of what they want and what they already have. “If you don’t know what you’re fighting for, you probably won’t get it. If you don’t know what you have, you’ll probably lose it,” Jealous said.
Jealous inspired students like Yvonne Quinones. “It’s uplifting to know when you’re in the presence of a great leader when you can see yourself taking his advice and learning from his accomplishments, but listening to advice is only as good as following through,” Quinones said.
As a parting message, Jealous suggested that students make a list of what makes them angry and select a life goal from that list just like he did years ago.
Featured photograph: Ben Jealous talks to York College in the Waldner Preforming Arts Center; photo by Mike Adams