Campus & Community

Former NAACP president speaks at 15th annual MLK celebration

Ben Jealous, former NAACP president, speaks at the 15th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration College at Palm Beach State Jan. 16.
Jealous, former NAACP president, speaks at the 15th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Breakfast. Click on the image to see the Flickr album.

Despite the nation’s position as a world leader and the country’s advances over the last 50 years, it is slipping in such areas as education, said Benjamin Jealous, former NAACP president.

“We are on a plane that is losing altitude,’’ he said, comparing the U.S. education system to Japan and Singapore and noting that spending on incarceration in the U.S. has climbed while funding for education has decreased. “We have to recognize that we are weak.”

Jealous, who made history in 2008 when he became the youngest person to lead the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, was the keynote speaker at the 15th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Breakfast Jan. 16. More than 500 people, many bundled in coats, scarfs and sweaters, braved the chilly weather to attend the celebration in the Duncan Theatre at the Lake Worth campus, which included a breakfast outside in the plaza named in King’s honor.  Many others watched the program via a live stream to the Belle Glade, Palm Beach Gardens and Boca Raton campuses.

Jealous spoke for more than 30 minutes and noted that many of the gains that King and other civil rights leaders fought for and won have eroded. He pointed to the high murder and incarceration rates, the number of blacks still living in poverty and the housing crisis that stripped away economic gains for many people.

He said that everyone must play a role in helping the nation gain altitude. He also said that it is important for individuals to understand that what happens to one group or in one community affects everyone, and everyone should be concerned about the welfare of others, particularly the nation’s children.

“We are one nation whether we want to believe it or not, but we have to recognize it.”

As part of the celebration, coordinated by the District Diversity Committee, the College presented Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Awards in four categories to: George Gentile (Alumni), a landscape architect and planner in Palm Beach County for more than 35 years who co-founded and served as the first president of the Juvenile Diabetes Association of Palm Beach County; Estella Pyfrom (Individual), a retired Palm Beach County educator who gained worldwide attention last year after the story of her mobile computer lab, “Estella’s Brilliant Bus,’’ first aired on “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams”; Nephtalie Jean (Student), who as a student leader of the PBSC Volunteer Program forged new working relationships with such organizations as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Locks of Love, Animal Care and Control, and Seagull Industries and PEACE – People Engaged in Active Community Efforts (Organization) that has helped bring together large numbers of people to hold political and economic systems accountable around serious issues of injustice affecting low-income and marginalized populations in the county.

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