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Dynamic leader of NAACP to deliver Morris lecture

March 19, 2010

Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP, will deliver the 10th annual John P. Morris Memorial Lecture, which honors the late John Peyton Morris, a longtime faculty member at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law who was committed to the principles of justice, equal opportunity and diversity.

Jealous, who at 37 is the youngest person to lead the NAACP in its nearly 100-year history, will give the talk, "Civil and Human Rights in the 21st Century," at 4:30 p.m., March 22, in the Great Hall, Armstrong Hall, at the College of Law. Free tickets are available at

"Ben Jealous is actively engaged in reimagining the NAACP's role for the 21st century, and we are very pleased to welcome him to campus to share his innovative vision," Dean Paul Schiff Berman said.

Jealous will talk about the challenges that remain in the fight for civil and human rights for all Americans.

"The children of my generation, who were born after the great civil rights victories, were told in that moment when racial oppression was over and people were to be judged by their character and not by their color, not to fight," he said. "Our mission was to reap what our parents had sown, and to work hard and play by the rules, because the rules now were fair. That worked for many of us, and it didn't work for too many of us."

In many ways, the justice system is to blame, Jealous said.

His generation of Americans and the one after it are the most murdered and imprisoned in the world, he said. Jealous notes that African-Americans represent 15 percent of crack users in the United States, but make up 85 percent of those incarcerated for it. America has 5 percent of the world's population, yet 25 percent of the world's prisoners – and the United States is the only country in the world where children as young as 12 may be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, Jealous said.

"It's a stark reminder that we have a long way to go," he said.

Jealous will issue this imperative – that everyone who believes in human rights, in the dream for equality and in the Constitution as a living document, must be involved as organizers, communicators and bridge-builders in the fight for human rights.

"We have to be clear about the nature of this fight, because the frontline is the battle to extend human rights," he said. "We will always fight to enforce past civil rights, but in this country, we still don't have the right to health care, let alone good health care. We still don't have the right to education, let alone good education. We still don't have the right to jobs, let alone good jobs, and we still don't have the right to housing, let alone good housing."

Jealous grew up believing that there was no higher calling than to further the cause of freedom in the United States and across the world, having inherited that mindset from his parents and grandparents. He is a former president of the Rosenberg Foundation, which funds civil and human rights advocacy to benefit working families in California, and was director of the U.S. Human Rights Program at Amnesty International. While in that position, he led efforts to pass federal legislation against prison rape, rebuild public consensus against racial profiling in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and expose widespread sentencing of children to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Jealous has a bachelor's degree in political science from Columbia University, and a master's degree in comparative social research from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He is a board member of the California Council for the Humanities, and the Association of Black Foundation Executives, and is a member of the Asia Society.

Morris, a law professor from 1968 to 1993, was committed to the principles of justice and equal opportunity and worked tirelessly throughout his life to foster diversity. The lecture is sponsored by the John P. Morris Black Law Student Association at the College of Law.

Janie Magruder,
(480) 727-9052
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law