A former U.S. congressman from California urged Jarvis Christian College students to reject the cynicism that’s being directed at the world today and engage in politics to effect change.
“If I had my last dollar, I would bet my last dollar on you, you young people in this room because I believe that at the end of the day you do get it,” Ron Dellums said. “You understand that this is a universal struggle. You understand that this is a global struggle. You understand that it is about the human family, but you get told so often that there’s nothing you can do. And I’m telling you get beyond that and, once you do, you can change America. You can change the world.”
Dellums addressed the college’s community during its Black History Celebration at the Hawkins campus on Tuesday.
Dellums represented Oakland, Berkeley and surrounding areas in Congress from 1971-99 and served as chairman of the House DC Committee and the House Armed Services Committee during his time in office.
His steadfast commitment to reduce military funding was a hallmark of his House tenure, according to a his biography on a House webpage.
One of his most significant legislative triumphs was the House’s passage of a bill calling for a U.S. trade embargo against South Africa and for American companies to divest their holdings in that country, according to the webpage.
Dellums, 78, began his speech with a story from his childhood. He said one time he fought with a peer who called him a “dirty black African.”
When he got home he was proud of his accomplishment and ready to tell his mother that he had a racial confrontation, prevailed and “stood up for the people.”
But, to his shock, his mother didn’t respond as he expected. Instead of pride, she was saddened and began crying.
“I brought your sister, 12, and you, Ronnie, 13 years, into this world and I have not taught you enough to be proud of your blackness and proud of your Africanness,” he said of her words at the time.
She told him that it was his decision to fight, but he shouldn’t have fought because his peer called him black and African, because those were true statements. If he was angered, it only should have been because the boy called him dirty.
Through her instruction, he learned that he was a human being, a complex person with an infinite number of adjectives to describe him, two of which were “black” and “of African descent.”
“So what I took from that was to be proud of my history, to learn from my history, to move beyond anger, to realize that strength lies not in my ability to express my anger, but in my ability to harness and discipline my anger,” he said to applause from the crowd.
Dellums said students often ask him about the difference between his generation and theirs. He cited three things: Urgency, the great imperative and unity.
He said his generation thought they had the luxury of time, but the present generation can’t afford the luxury of time because the world is changing rapidly.
His generation was urged to change the world because it was the right thing to do.
“You must change the world because it’s the only thing to do,” he said.
The price of war is too expensive, neglect of the environment too risky and failure to address the poverty issue too hazardous.
Finally, he said, his generation fought over race and gender. This generation must bring together the entire human family.
“One race can’t overcome climate change,” he said. “One race can’t overcome global economics. One race can’t overcome cyber security, cyber challenges. It is the challenge of the human family.”
Students must engage as citizens if they want to change their world, he said.
He told the students they could start the “I Am a Citizen Movement” and one of their first projects could be to come up with a new Voting Rights Act that respects the entire human family.
He told them to reject cynicism and engage as citizens.
“Cynics don’t change the world,” he said. “It’s people who are the dreamers, people who are the optimists, people who are the idealists, the people who see the possibility are people who bring change, not the cynics.”
College President Dr. Lester C. Newman said he hoped the students gained a better understanding of the history of the struggle of people in America. It’s important to embrace everyone in society, he said.
“I think it’s important to take time to understand the history, the past and what it means for the future and how we can help inform the future,” he said.