Benjamin Todd Jealous, the youngest president in the history of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, will deliver the University of Rochester's 2014 Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Address on Friday, Jan. 24. The free talk begins at 6 p.m. in Strong Auditorium on the River Campus.
A fifth generation member of the NAACP, Jealous began his career in civil rights at age 18, opening mail at the organization's Legal Defense Fund. He has since become an outspoken leader of successful state and local movements to ban the death penalty, outlaw racial profiling, defend voting rights, secure marriage equality, and free multiple wrongfully incarcerated people. Under his leadership, the NAACP grew to be the largest civil rights organization online and on mobile, experienced its first multi-year membership growth in 20 years, and became the largest community-based nonpartisan voter registration operation in the country. He announced last fall that he planned to step down from the leadership position at the end of 2013.
Jealous's address will draw on the tradition of leadership that connects Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Shirley Chisolm, Frederick Douglass, Cesar Chavez, and Frances Willard to inspire young people to change the world. Jealous will discuss victories he has won, as well as those of young organizers he has trained and mentored, as a framework for how to achieve social transformation.
"We are honored to have Benjamin Jealous serve as our Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Address speaker this year," said Norman Burnett, dean and director of the Office of Minority Student Affairs. "As a result of his dynamic leadership, Jealous is credited with reenergizing the nation's oldest and most revered civil rights organization and advancing national discussions on disparities in economics, health care, education, voter empowerment, and the criminal justice system."
Akan Nelson '15, vice president of the University's Pan-African Students Association, will introduce Jealous at the address. Nelson said that Jealous's success in revitalizing the NAACP—particularly the creation of an online registration system—would resonate well with a young audience. "He is young, he is in touch with the current issues, and he has the ambition necessary to inspire college students like myself to keep pushing, keep innovating, and keep being the best version of ourselves that we can be," he explained.
Prior to leading the NAACP, Jealous spent 15 years working as a journalist and community organizer. While at Mississippi's Jackson Advocate Newspaper—the most frequently firebombed publication in the U.S. during the late 20th century—his investigations were credited with exposing corruption at the state penitentiary at Parchman and proving the innocence of a black farmer who was being framed for arson.
While at Amnesty International, he led successful efforts to outlaw prison rape, expose the increasing trend of children being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, and drew attention to expanded racial profiling in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. When he was still a college student, Jealous helped lead a successful campaign to stop the governor of Mississippi from turning a public historically black university into a prison.
A Rhodes Scholar, Jealous is a graduate of Columbia and Oxford Universities. He was named to both Forbes and Time Magazine's 40 under 40 lists, labeled a Young Global Economic Leader by the World Economic Forum, and was #1 on TheRoot.com's list of 2013's Top Black Influencers.
The annual address, which kicks-off the University's Black History Month celebration by recognizing the legacy and influence of King's Life, is co-sponsored by the Office of Minority Student Affairs and the Office of the President.
Note to Editors: Press availability with Jealous will be scheduled from 3 to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 24, in the Frederick Douglass Leadership House, located on Wilson Boulevard on the Fraternity Quadrangle. Advanced interviews also can be scheduled by e-mailing Melissa Greco Lopes at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 585.276.3693.