Hours after Rev. Al Sharpton, Georgetown basketball legend John Thompson and a host of national black leaders transformed a Georgetown forum into a 70th birthday tribute to Rev. Jesse Jackson, the former presidential candidate was working the crowds as if he were still running for something.
Sitting in Georgia Brown’s restaurant with Rev. Freddie Haynes and Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, who hosted the event, Jackson talked about his early days in the Civil Rights movement, the campaigns with Martin Luther King Jr., and new efforts like encouraging those participating in Occupy Wall Street and Occupy DC.
“I am blessed to have been able to serve with continuity for 51 years,” said Jackson, who was born Oct. 8, 1941, in Greenville, S.C. "I went to jail in 1960 trying to use the public library and I never stopped serving. There is continuity with our service."
Earlier in the day, Sharpton credited Jackson for helping King to take the Civil Rights movement from the streets of the South to big city's like Chicago where Jackson founded Operation Bread Basket and PUSH (People United to Save Humanity).
A chorus of speakers followed including Bennett College President Julianne Malveaux, Marcia Dyson, John Thompson and John Thompson Jr.
But the loudest praise for Jackson came in the way people greeted him in the restaurant and later at Occupy DC across the street at McPherson Square.
"Thank you for helping the librarians," said a white woman dining at Georgia Brown’s. "Thank you for helping us with the New York cops,"said a young man who had traveled from Manhattan to be part Occupy DC.
As Jackson walked and shook hands, he kept talking in long bursts of historical facts with Dyson, Haynes and several aides in tow.
“Economic disparity is not good for the health of our nation," Jackson said. "Bank policies are obstructing education; too few can go to school, others get there and they can't stay, others graduate without a job so occupy is really the canary. They represent the pain that is shared broadly. The issue is not occupy, but those who face home foreclosures who should be here."
Protesters with Occupy DC came up to shake Jackson’s hand in the middle of the park. The scene resembled the 1980s when Jackson ran for president and people would yell at him in the crowd "Run Jesse Run."
Dyson said the Occupy movement was important. "Occupy DC, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Atlanta, Occupy New York is all about the forces of resistance to the social lethargy and the social apathy that is characterized in too many of us,"Dyson said. "Young people will no longer tolerate the dismal response by their elders to the kind of serious issues they are concerned about.
“That is why Rev. Jesse Jackson is an important figure to bridge those gaps,” Dyson said. “He was a young man in his 20s in the Civil Rights movement now he returns some 45 years later because there has been an unbroken chain of commitment." As Dyson talked Jackson jumped in and said, "43 years bro."
Haynes, a nationally-known preacher from Dallas, said Jackson was unique when he came along. "Most southern Baptist preachers look at scripture from the top down. He taught us to look at scripture from the bottom up because that is the framework from which it comes."
Jackson is still running for a cause, if you hear his words. "Did you get my statement on Libya?" he said, just before telling an aide to e-mail it to a reporter.
"It is hard to see around the curb until you get to the corner," Jackson said in an interview. "You get to the corner you see something else. In 1960, it was about public accommodations, when Dr. King gave that speech in Washington, we couldn't use the sink or a public toilet, It took us 25 years to get from the Voting Rights Act to reasonable implementation."
As for the future Jackson said, " We are in a state of emergency, jobs emergency, and our plan must correspond with the size of the problem— 52 million Americans are unemployed, 44 million on food stamps, my plan is to continue Dr. King’s work, to get jobs and income for every American.”