Van Jones Keynote Address for Black History Month
It’s not every day that a person of importance will choose to discuss and emphasize not the glory in the founding of America, but the ugliness.
Thomas Jefferson, speaking of the inequality and Native Americans’ bereft of their land this country was founded upon, said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”
This is where Van Jones began his discussion as the Keynote speaker for Black History Month at Old Dominion University Feb. 19 in North Café, Webb Center.
Van Jones is a Yale-educated attorney who has written two New York Times bestsellers: “The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Solve Our Two Biggest Problems,” and “Rebuild the Dream.”
Jones worked as the green jobs advisor to the Obama White House in 2009, founded the organization Green for All and has won several human rights awards. He is also a CNN contributor and was listed in Time’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2009.
Jones spoke directly to the students, focusing on what this generation needs to do to step up and why they need to do so. To connect with the students, Jones went through his family’s background and how he did not grow up as “a rich man’s son.”
His father was born in Memphis during segregation and later joined the military. Soon after, he went to college, and recognizing the importance of it, put his little brother, his cousins, and finally his children, Jones and his sister, through college.
Jones’ point in explaining this to the students was to become relatable to them. He explained that today’s generation is not only capable, but also expected to make changes to this country.
Jones described the difference between the years of 1959 and 1969, going from nothing in ’59 to the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Stonewall Rebellion, “Flower Power,” and Rock ‘n’ Roll 10 years later.
Jones said that the time before 1959, the “400 years of foolishness,” was broken in just 10 years because of the baby boomers, who were young people like the students in the audience. Jones emphasized that not only do the young people of today have the ability to change the country, but they also have more than the baby boomers did 45 years ago.
Jones explained that today’s young generation is much larger than the baby boomer generation. He also explained that this generation is much more diverse and more capable of change.
For Jones’ last point, he took out his iPhone. He said that because of this device there is, “more and better computing power in our hand than the entire government had when putting the first man on the moon,” but many people choose to use it as a toy.
Jones explained that no one is rushing to help today’s young people; they are on their own. He closed by addressing students, “If you don’t fight for what you want, you deserve what you get.”
After his presentation, Jones took questions from the audience, ranging from racial issues to affirmative action, which helped him get through school, and discussed the Kahn Academy, a website with a collection of free lectures and tutorials on various subjects to assist in students’ learning.
Hana Abate, a senior studying International Studies and Political Science, said that the presentation was, “very inspirational and motivating. The quote that struck me in particular was ‘No excuses, just excellence,’”
Mazin Abuharaz, the president of the ODU Muslim Association, also found the presentation motivating.
“I have African-American friends, including some Muslims, and I realize the challenges they are going through. I’m happy that someone is trying to lift them up,” Abuharaz said.
Beside the stage, people lined up to buy Jones’ two books that were being sold, and after he took questions, he stuck around a bit longer to do a book signing and to talk individually to the students and patrons who were interested.
By Emma Needham