In front of a crowd scattered across the 125-seat theater in the Loretto-Hilton Center, Benjamin Jealous stood in the spotlight in front of an audience of Webster University faculty, students and the general public.
“The only people that ever changed the world were regular folk,” Jealous said during his speech on Feb. 17.
That night, regular folk listened to a man who stopped a Mississippi governor from turning three historically black colleges into state prisons, and at 35, became the youngest person to be elected president of the NAACP. Jealous encouraged them to make a choice if they wanted to change their communities.
Jealous said there is a similarity between The Sisters of Loretto, who founded Webster University, and civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. He said all of them decided to stand for something so they would stop falling for everything.
“Most of us see ourselves as regular people (and think) ‘well, what can I do’,” Jealous said during his speech. “The answer is anything.”
Student Government Association (SGA) President Katie Maxwell was in the audience when Jealous spoke and said what she is learning in her sociology classes attracted her to the speaking engagement.
“The thing that hit me the most from (Jealous’) entire speech was if you wait until your plan (for change) is perfect, you will never affect change,” Maxwell said.
Jealous told the audience about a time when he made a life changing decision.
He was on the bus coming back from his grandmother’s house. He said that he began to write down all of the things he did not like about the “state of the community, the state of the country.” After he wrote down 10 or 12 things, Jealous said he closed his eyes and randomly drew a circle on his list. When he opened his eyes, he saw he had circled “end discrimination in the justice system.”
When Jealous said, “agendas don’t make the change, people do,” his words resonated with Maxwell.
“You can plan as much as you want, but you need to work with people to get them passionate about the work. That’s what gets things to move forward,” Maxwell said.
Webster President Elizabeth Stroble said that before she heard Jealous’ speech, she expected to hear Jealous challenge the audience to show leadership and “to take advantage of what people that came before us did.”
“I think he did that effectively,” Stroble said.
Stroble said that when she was an undergraduate, she heard several speakers tell their life stories and issue the same challenge to leadership as Jealous did to the Webster audience.
“That is what I want us to do for our students here at Webster. I want our students to have access to a broader world and make it better,” Stroble said.
At the end of his speech, Jealous encouraged the audience to make a list of things they want to see change in their communities and encouraged them to make the changes happen.
“The difference between people who change the world and the people who sit by is that the ones who changed the world stood up for something,” Jealous said.
After Jealous finished his speech and answered questions during the Q-and-A segment of the night, Bill Monroe asked for the floor.
Monroe, a member of the St. Louis Public School Elected Board, said he attended the speaking engagement in hopes to reach out to Stroble about a proposal to help struggling school districts change their situation and work towards a solution.
Monroe said he wanted Webster to consider what was going on in North County because he believed that the department of education is not being truthful.
“I am here to go forward and with what I think is a solution,” Monroe said.
Stroble said Monroe made a stand for change by speaking up.
“I think it’s wonderful that he took this opportunity to get a hearing (for his proposal),” Stroble said. “We’ll read it and we’ll get back to him. I think Webster, as a university should feel good that he would entrust in us his proposal and giving it consideration. It’s a good sign.”