OXFORD, Miss. – Flowing with candor, charisma and in a conversational style, Eunique Jones Gibson urged listeners Monday night (Feb. 13) at University of Mississippi to become social activists who improve living conditions for present and future generations.
Delivering the keynote address for the university’s Black History Month observances, the creator of the “Because of Them, We Can” campaign addressed more than 200 students, faculty, staff and community members gathered in Fulton Chapel. The audience listened attentively as Jones Gibson shared her experiences and issued a call for change.
“Our mission is to help our children reimagine their possibilities,” she said. “We need you to help us. There is so much work to be done. Now is the time to get involved because life is short and none of us knows how many years we have left.”
During her presentation, which included videos and a question-and-answer session, Jones Gibson outlined three things necessary for individuals to engage in finding and fulfilling their purpose and passion in life.
“First, get to know you,” she said. “Learn your history because that’s how you build your foundation and your confidence.”
“Second, decide what works for you. There’s no cookie-cutter way to be involved because real activism doesn’t come in a box.”
“Third, know that it’s bigger than you,” Jones Gibson said. “Because it’s for those who are coming after us, what we do matters more than our comfort and complacency.”
To drive the last point home, the speaker shared that she had surgery last weekend but didn’t cancel her scheduled UM appearance.
“Being here is more important than my pain,” she said. “It’s bigger than me.”
In 2013, Jones Gibson launched the “Because of Them, We Can” campaign during Black History Month with a mission to empower the next generation to honor the legacy of their ancestors through individual pursuit of greatness.
The campaign went viral and is considered to be one of the most prolific and virally successful Black History campaigns of all time.
“I didn’t envision this becoming what it is when I started it,” Jones Gibson said. “I was simply striving to combat the negative and false narratives of black people to which my children and their peers are being exposed. As it grew, I realized I had an opportunity to create weapons of mass empowerment.”
“Because of Them, We Can” now encompasses a website, social media outlets and videos. A coffee table book, posters, T-shirts and sports jackets are available for purchase online. The campaign also has featured billboards and bus shelter advertisements in major cities.
A team travels to elementary schools to speak to students and leave behind copies of the book for them to keep.
Jones Gibson and her assistants donated 40 copies of the book, three of which were given away to audience members, for her visit to Oxford. The remainder will be delivered to the Boys and Girls Club of Oxford, the Oxford-Lafayette County Public Library and elementary school libraries in the area.
“It’s time to be determined and intentional … especially now,” she said. “By being resilient, we can change the values of our children. The more excited people become about their futures, the more real change can be accomplished in our communities.”
Shawnboda Mead, director of the UM Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement, said she hopes that all members of the university community will respond to Jones Gibson’s appeal.
“As our university strives to be a leader in racial reconciliation and inclusivity, this year’s keynote address is a continuation of our educational efforts,” Mead said. “Having engaged with Mrs. Jones Gibson and learned more about the founding, as well as the guiding principles, of ‘Because of Them, We Can,’ we should be even more determined to fulfill our mission.”
Ole Miss students and others in attendance said they were moved by Jones Gibson’s words.
“I’m definitely more motivated to continue to work,” said Joshua Bell, a master’s student in higher education from Miami. “Her take on ‘failing fast’ is a perspective that I never considered before as a pathway to success. Though the work is never over, I’m encouraged to keep going forward.”
“She reminds me of a stick of dynamite,” said Baba Wovoka Subkwe of Oxford, founder of the Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom School and Culture Center in Etta. “Organization and unity is key.
“I’m definitely inspired to continue teaching everything we know to the people of the community in which I live.”
Jones Gibson said she hopes that the UM community will never tire of talking about its 1962 integration by James Meredith.
“Every black person in this room is a miracle,” she said. “Just your going to college makes you a trailblazer and an example for those looking to you. Because of those who came before us, we can. Because of us, those who come after us can also.”
For a full list of sponsors and Black History Month calendar of events, visit http://inclusion.olemiss.edu/.