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Jackson Addresses Race, Elections at Duke

Weeks after acknowledging an extramarital affair and an illegitimate child, Jackson spoke to more than 100 students and faculty members at the Duke University School of Law.

Standing in front of the crowd in a small, cramped room, Jackson discussed his opposition to President Bush's recently proposed faith-based initiative, affirmative action and his concern over the disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida on Election Day.

He took issue with Bush's faith-based plan, which he said could compromise religious organizations' missions. "(In the United States) there is a struggle of people of faith," he said. "(To say) I am full of faith, I'm full of love, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me is not true. Having faith is no substitute for equal protection under the law."

Jackson also touched on affirmative action and other social issues facing the United States.

"Most poor people are not black or brown," he said. "They are white, female and young.

"White women cannot be silenced as if affirmative action is a black cross to bear," he continued. "Affirmative action is a majority, not a minority issue."

Jackson, who was a supporter of former Vice President Al Gore in his bid for the presidency, also spoke briefly on health care. "When (the maids, janitors and cooks) get sick, they do not have health insurance," he emotionally told the audience. "They too dream; they too dream."

And Jackson expressed disagreement with Bush's push for private school vouchers.

"It is a cynical view of education with an outer layer of hope," he said. "It is contradictory to leave children behind. ... There is a high risk in leaving children behind."

After his speech Jackson spent about 30 minutes answering questions from the audience.

"He was not even going to take questions," said Anita Brown, speakers coordinator for the law school's external relations. "(But because he did take questions he) showed his openness."

Jackson did not mention his recent scandal and was not questioned about it by students.

"The students were free to ask whatever they wanted," said Mirinda Kossoff, communications director for Duke's law school. "It was not relevant for them to ask him about (his affair)."

At the end of his speech Jackson received a standing ovation. The crowd was charmed.

"I thought it was inspiring," said Jennifer Westerhaus, a second-year law student from Des Moines, Iowa. "It made me think a lot."

"It was incredibly inspirational," said Effia Aning, a third-year law student from New York and a member of Duke's Black Law Students Association. "I was happy to be there."

And the audience seemed genuinely touched by Jackson's words concerning character and the treatment of others. "When you graduate it will not matter how you treated the dean," he said. "How you treat the maids, cooks, and janitors -- the least of these is a measure of character."

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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