Rev. Jesse Jackson urges H-F students to move away from anger over racial incident

  Rev. Jesse Jackson listens as sophomore Aniya Askew,
  left, asks her question during a student assembly
  Tuesday at Homewood-Flossmoor High School. 

  (Provided photo)
 
It’s been more than a week since four Homewood-Flossmoor High School students posted a racist video on social media. Feeling hurt and angry about it is understandable, but students must work through their feelings so that healing can begin, Rev. Jesse Jackson told students at an assembly on Tuesday.
 
“Hate blinds, anger paralyzes. They limit your ability to respond,” the civil rights leader and founder of Operation PUSH told the classes that filled the Mall Auditorium at the start of the day. “We learn from crises. How you respond is a measure of your character.”
 
  H-F High Principal Jerry
  Lee Anderson, left, and
  Superintendent Von
  Mansfield, right, welcomed
  Rev. Jesse Jackson, center,
  to campus on Tuesday.
  He addressed students on
  the recent blackface incident.

 
Students Sean Roby, Laila Malak, Mark Cruse, Nia Valdez, Alexandria Porter, Marshall Ellis, Mia Knox, Olivia Garcia, Aniyah Askew and Eric Gerecke were on the dais with Jackson. They voiced their reactions of hurt, disgust, alarm and frustration to the events that followed the April 27 posting of a video to social media showing the four students in blackface driving through a carry-out window at a McDonald’s and making racist remarks to a black female employee.
 
“I felt disrespected and the thing that affected me the most was their claim of ignorance,” said sophomore Aniyah Askew.
 
“For me personally, I was frustrated. And, how the administration can’t tell us anything frustrated me even more,” said senior Mark Cruse. “But now I’m starting to believe there’s two options here: be angry and nothing gets done or try to make a difference.”
 
“I live in a very diverse community and I was shocked at first, but hearing more I began to understand. I just feel disrespected,” said sophomore Alexandria Porter.
 
“I was uncomfortable and I was shocked. I didn’t want to believe it. I eventually had to. At first I was really angry about it, but after the Q-A (with administrators) last week I had an understanding that it’s something that we need to get past,” said freshman Olivia Garcia.
 
“I knew them well and some of them are my friends,” said Eric Gerecke, a junior. “It really disappointed me that they would use racial connotations. The community took a hit because they decided to post a video like this.”
 
“When I saw the video, I felt like I wasn’t in a safe space. I thought this community was a safe space, but the video showed me the reality,” said sophomore Marshall Ellis.
 
“Race is not a problem. Racism is a problem,” that’s meant to hurt, demean, intimidate and make one feel inferior, Jackson explained.
 
“How you respond to a negative threat to you is a measure of your character. (You) must rise above the need to respond in kind,” he told the students.
 
Jackson called on H-F football players and gave them the example of a sports team ready for a championship game. If someone showed up in blackface and shouted insults, the players said they’d be “very upset” and “disturbed.” 
 
Jackson said when all are seen as equals the game can be won.

 “If it is fair and transparent, I can make it. We lean on each other.  We cannot demean each other and win the game.”
 
The same is true in this case, he said. People learn from their mistakes, as these four students are learning. 
 
“We must learn that people can change,” Jackson stressed.
 
When students asked how they can move forward, he told them change may seem slow, but things are changing from when he started working in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. He pointed to the diversity of the U.S. Congress and the election of Lori Lightfoot, a black lesbian, as Chicago’s mayor.
 
Jackson said he wants all seniors to be registered to vote before they graduate. He reminded them the power of one’s vote is essential for change.
 
At the end of the program, H-F Principal Jerry Lee Anderson addressed students.
 
“The message for us today is we have a great school. You have opportunities that some students can only imagine. We can’t let this break us as a student body at Homewood-Flossmoor High School,” she said. “My great hope is that we will learn, grow and be stronger and better as we resolve this crisis. We will find a way to put this behind us and move on.”

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