Rev. Jesse Jackson
William H. Borders
Dr. William H. Borders

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Rev. Jesse Jackson was born on October 8, 1941, in Greenville, South Carolina. His mother was Helen Burns. She was 17 years old at the time of his birth. His father was a married man from the neighborhood. Jackson was a standout football player. He was awarded a scholarship to the University of Illinois but only stayed one year because he was not allowed to play. He would then transfer to North Carolina A &T. Here, he would begin his journey of activism, leading his first protest in 1962. Urged to attend seminary, he enrolled in Chicago Theological Seminary but dropped out before finishing to focus on civil rights activities.

His activism would lead him to Selma, Alabama, where he met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The two would begin a friendship and partnership that would continue until Dr. King’s assassination in 1968. Jackson began to work for Dr. King, and his first assignment sent him to Chicago to work on the Operation Breadbasket initiative, hoping to create better opportunities for black business owners and more jobs for the black community. Jackson would remain with Operation Breadbasket until 1971, when he launched his organization, the “Rainbow PUSH Coalition,” in 1971 in Chicago.

Widely recognized as an influential leader, Jackson’s life has not escaped scrutiny.?Married since 1962, Jackson came under fire in 2001 when he had a child with a Rainbow PUSH staffer. Jackson has also faced criticism due to perceptions from others that his actions are self-serving and promote division rather than inclusion.

Jackson has long been admired for his charisma, oratory skills, and commanding presence. He is well known for his impassioned delivery of the “I Am Somebody” poem.?His call-and-response delivery of the piece is both captivating and inspiring. Jackson was featured on Sesame Street in 1971, leading children in the call-and-response exchange. Some may think that Jackson actually penned the poem. He did not. Dr. William Holmes Borders, Pastor of the Greater Wheat Street Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is the author of the original piece, which he penned in the 1950’s. Borders was a pastor and civil rights activist. In true extemporaneous fashion, Jackson over time, made the poem his own.

One of my favorite renditions by Jackson can be found on YouTube. The footage was taken in 1963 while Jackson was addressing a large gathering. He leads the crowd in a rhythmic crescendo of call and response. We encourage you to check out the video and experience it for yourself. In a world where invalidation is commonplace, this poem invites us to have a loving and enthusiastic dialogue with ourselves about the inherent value we each hold.

Jackson also was featured on Sesame Street in 1971, leading a group of children through the poem in a call-and-response format. The power and potential infused in these words are powerful for all ages and stages of life!

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