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Mitchell Jackson speaks at annual MLK Commemoration Jan. 23

Author and activist Mitchell S. Jackson is the featured speaker at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Commemoration, Jan. 23.

Author and activist Mitchell S. Jackson is the featured speaker at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Commemoration, Jan. 23 at 5:30 p.m. in Sage Chapel. The event is free and open to the public; RSVP is recommended.

The annual commemoration brings the Cornell and Ithaca communities together with events centered on King’s service, activism and legacy. Jackson’s keynote, “The Other America II,” builds on a speech given by King in 1967 at Stanford University, in which he addressed poverty and widespread racism as ugly realities confronting the comfortable vision of America as a land of opportunity.

Born in Portland, Oregon, Jackson is on the liberal studies faculty at New York University (NYU). A prominent speaker and advocate for criminal justice reform, he has visited prisons and youth facilities in the United States and abroad. He was arrested on drug charges as a youth and served time in prison, where he developed an interest in literature and writing. After his release in 1998, he earned master’s degrees in writing from Portland State University and NYU.

The event is facilitated by the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives (OADI) and Cornell United Religious Work, and organized by a committee of campus and community leaders.

Jackson will meet with OADI students in Sage Chapel before his lecture, and afterward will sign copies of his 2013 book, “The Residue Years.” He also is scheduled to meet community members at a luncheon Jan. 23 at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center.

“We are hopeful that the event will ensure that the legacy of Dr. King is not forgotten by this generation,” said Rochelle Jackson-Smarr, program manager for community engagement and social justice in OADI. “While some people have memory of King and his impact on their lives, today’s students may not understand the gravity of his impact on society. Part of this campus-community collaboration is to revitalize Dr. King’s memory in contemporary times.”

Jackson, she said, “is capable of bridging generational gaps and connecting Dr. King’s dream to current events, as an inspiration for all to take action for the community.”

Cosponsors of the event include the Latina/o Studies Program, Cornell Prison Education Program, Student and Campus Life, the Greater Ithaca Activities Center and the Multicultural Resource Center.

“There are literally two Americas,” King said in 1967. “One America ... is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies; and culture and education for their minds; and freedom and human dignity for their spirits. But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebullience of hope into the fatigue of despair.”

Noting that despite civil rights gains over the previous decade, “racism is still alive in American society and much more widespread than we realized,” King said: “However unpleasant it is, we must honestly see and admit that racism is still deeply rooted all over America. (And) the so-called ‘white backlash’ … is merely a new name for an old phenomenon. It’s not something that just came into being because of shouts of Black Power.”

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Lindsey Knewstub