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Jesse Jackson urges students to organize

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 26, 2009 - The Rev. Jesse Jackson spent much of Wednesday at the University of Missouri-St. Louis speaking with students and the public about their place in this economy. In his keynote address for UMSL's African-American History Program, Jackson spoke to a full house at the Touhill Performing Arts Center and talked about progress in his lifetime.

The bookends of the changes he had seen started in 1955 when Emmitt Till was murdered and ended in 2008 when President Barack Obama was elected. In discussing what went on between these times, Jackson talked about working for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his own trailblazing runs for the presidency in '84 and '88.

But Jackson also spent part of his time talking to students about education loans, mobilization and even Facebook.

Jackson talked about how the nation is in a painful, but beautiful moment. He noted that college students are less self-indulgent than students 10 years ago, and said he wants them to receive fewer loans and more grants.

And when they get loans, "students should get the same rate as banks," Jackson said. "If students can get the 0-to-1 percent loans that banks get they could then spend money on buying homes when they graduate."

Jackson said that students need to mobilize through the Internet. They can connect with students around the world to demand lower rates for education loans.

When Darren Nesbitt, president of UMSL's Black Collegians, asked Jackson whether he was on Facebook, Jackson said he was not. Nesbitt later said he was glad to meet Jackson. "He talked about a lot of things I did not know about."

Kathleen Foster, assistant director of financial aid at UMSL, has been following Jackson's career for years. But Wednesday was the first time she was able to meet him.

"I'm a big fan," Foster said. "I've been following him since the PUSH days." PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) is a nonprofit civil rights group established by Jackson in 1971.

Jackson had many long-time followers at his speech, such as Geno Sharp, who owns an automotive service business in Illinois. Sharp was one of the first people to arrive at the event.

"I've seen him speak before," Sharp said. "Back when he was running for president."

Sharp said he hoped that students would get the message from Jackson's and President Obama's speeches about getting extra education.

At least one student who attended Jackson's' keynote said that student loans worry her. Cheri Renee is an MBA student at UMSL, and said her loans where so high she was embarrassed.

Other students in the audience said they had student loans ranging from $25,000 up to $70,000. Jackson said that it was unfair that students had to borrow at much higher rates than banks, and that it is shameful that the government makes a profit off of students.

Brett Lohmeyer is an intern for the Beacon and a student at St. Louis Community College - Meramec.