With Reverend Jesse Jackson turning 80, he has called for a renewed fight for social justice. “We are in an awkward position.”

After two presidential tours, international negotiations over prisoners, marches for freedom, and local organizing, Reverend Jesse Jackson is still battling for what he believes is right when he turns 80.

At a birthday celebration on Rainbow/PUSH Friday, Jackson gave a call to action on a number of social justice issues he believes threaten “everything we have earned in the past 50 years.”

“We’re in an awkward position,” Jackson said. “We must now organize a different model, a different act.”

Jackson, who just weeks ago Treatment for Covid and Parkinson’s disease has endedHe was joined by pastors and leaders from all over Chicago who prayed for the civil rights icon and recalled his remarkable influence in civil rights history.

Jackson has thought of everything from his 1984 conversations with Fidel Castro to his efforts to free 48 political prisoners to his 1990 meeting with Nelson Mandela after the world leader was released from prison.

“The harder you work, the more luck you get,” he said. “I’ve never seen this failure.”

Reverend Jesse Jackson reflected on his lifelong struggle for civil rights when he turned 80 on Friday.
Pat Nabong / The Sun Times

Two weeks ago, Jackson was released from a rehab center in Chicago after a severe battle with COVID and receiving treatment for Parkinson’s disease. Jackson, who was vaccinated at the time, said the vaccine saved his life and encouraged others in the black community to get vaccinated.

“I couldn’t walk or talk for three weeks,” Jackson said. “I went to a rehab center so I could learn how to walk or talk again. You have to know the shots are important.”

Jackson also stressed the importance of the struggle to protect the federal vote and criticized how “state rights” made it difficult for many to vote in the South.

“Registration. Vaccination. Education,” Jackson repeated. “We must register to vote, we must be vaccinated.”

He compared recent anti-abortion measures to the American “Taliban”.

The event was held at Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH organization, which he founded in 1971 after a falling out with fellow civil rights activist Ralph Abernathy while they worked on Operation Breadbasket. The organization works today to fight for social justice and to provide economic support to minority communities.

Jackson’s son, Jonathan Jackson, said it was essential that his father’s work to fight for social justice continue today.

Jonathan Jackson, son of Reverend Jesse Jackson, speaks during his father's celebration of his 80th birthday at the Rainbow PUSH Alliance headquarters in Kenwood, as Jackson drew attention to the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, women's rights and other social justice issues, Friday afternoon, October 8, 2021.

Jonathan Jackson, the son of Reverend Jesse Jackson, said his father’s work is ongoing and spoke about the need to improve Chicago’s South Side.
Pat Nabong / The Sun Times

“My dad says, ‘The struggle then and the struggle there is now,’” Jonathan said. “We should be more focused and stern in our conversations…This is no longer the water fountain. It’s no longer about segregated schools.”

Theological students from Ghana, Kenya, and India also gathered to thank the religious leader and civil rights example for his global impact.

“Your work is a great inspiration to the whole world,” said Christopher Rajkumar from India. “Keep inspiring us.”

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