Jesse L. Jackson, speaking to the 1988 Democratic Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, said: “Wherever you are tonight, you can make it. Hold your head high; stick your chest out. You can make it. It gets dark sometimes, but the morning comes. … Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive!”

In Louisville, Kentucky, this week, Simmons College of Kentucky announced the establishment of the Jesse L. Jackson Center for Racial Justice at a unity service to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

The center’s creation is a response to the recent Department of Justice report on the Louisville Metro Police Department and racial injustice. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the report outlines seven significant findings:

  • LMPD uses excessive force, including unjustified neck restraints and the unreasonable use of police dogs and tasers.
  • LMPD conducts searches based on invalid warrants.
  • LMPD unlawfully executes search warrants without knocking and announcing.
  • LMPD unlawfully stops, searches, detains and arrests people during street enforcement activities, including traffic and pedestrian stops.
  • LMPD unlawfully discriminates against Black people in its enforcement activities.
  • LMPD violates the rights of people engaged in protected speech critical of policing.
  • Louisville Metro and LMPD discriminate against people with behavioral health disabilities when responding to them in crisis.

“The Jesse L. Jackson Center for Racial Justice will address the racial disparities in Louisville and across the nation,” Kevin Cosby, Simmons president and senior pastor of St. Stephen’s Baptist Church, told the crowd.

A man standing behind a podium.

Kevin Cosby (Photo: Mitch Randall)

For example, Cosby pointed out, Blacks are 13.2% of Louisville’s population, yet they are 40% of the homeless, 30% of the incarcerated, and possess 2.6% of the wealth. In an equitable society, those numbers would more accurately reflect the population.

“Justice for black people will not flow into this society merely from court decisions nor from fountains of political oratory. … White America must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society,” King wrote in his essay, A Testament of Hope.

Through the Jackson Center for Racial Justice, Cosby and Simmons College are working to bring radical change to Louisville and the nation. A generous grant of $2 million from the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation helped to establish the center.

A woman standing behind a podium.

Callie Langton (Photo: Mitch Randall)

“The Baugh Foundation is honored to be a partner. The center will bring together scholars, faith leaders, and community partners to advocate for the systemic changes necessary to address racial inequality,” said Callie Langton, the Baugh Foundation’s executive director, who attended the service.

In a press release, Simmons stated three objectives: educate, advocate and legislate.  The center will educate people on social and systemic racism, advocate for just laws, policies, systems and structures, and legislate by working to improve public policy in order to move from disparities to equality.

President Cosby granted Good Faith Media an exclusive interview after the service. He told GFM: “Racism is real today. It’s happening in Texas and Florida in an attempt to move the clock back. The center will educate, empower people and try to close the gaps between Blacks and whites; and all the disparities.”

A man sitting in a wheelchair with a group of men standing around him.

Jesse Jackson, center (Photo: Mitch Randall)

Jesse Jackson was present for the service, but Parkinson’s has left him unable to speak before crowds. Confined to a wheelchair, Jackson celebrated the news of the center while seated in the congregation.

As the day closed, I was reminded of one of Jackson’s most famous quotes: “If my mind can conceive it, my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it!”

When people of faith committed to equality and justice come together, as Simmons College and the Baugh Foundation have done with the creation of the Jesse L. Jackson Center for Racial Justice, the hope for a better tomorrow is alive.

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