Civil rights activist and green jobs advocate Van Jones told hundreds who crowded the state Capitol rotunda Monday that he could see the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. standing with young Americans who have risen up against police violence.
“Be patient with this new movement,” Jones said at the 35th annual ceremony honoring King.
Jones, the best-selling author of “Green Collar Jobs” and a host on CNN’s “Crossfire,” said that just as the eloquent King was often misunderstood and misinterpreted, today’s young people protesting that “black lives matter” are being unfairly tarred as violent, anti-white and anti-police.
Some news reports have exaggerated property damage during protests, Jones said, and more justice for African Americans doesn’t mean less justice for others.
He was a former green jobs adviser in President Barack Obama’s administration.
Gov. Scott Walker, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and Madison Mayor Paul Soglin were among those in attendance at the celebration of King’s life.
Walker joked that it was nice to hear Jones speak in the Capitol as opposed to being “grilled” by him on the CNN set.
Jones talked about the large numbers of black men incarcerated in the United States while noting he observed that most of his privileged classmates at Yale Law School were committing nonviolent drug offenses without being arrested.
When asked after the ceremony about racial disparities in criminal justice and education, Walker said his administration is working with the Legislature on ways to change the criminal justice system on the front end “to reduce the rate of incarceration in ways that still keep the public safe.”
He also said the state can look at government restrictions on opening a business at the state and local level, and find more ways to get young people into the educational fields they need to find jobs early on through the technical collegesystem.
Jones has been promoting an effort called Yes We Code, through his Rebuild the Dream organization, to teach 100,000 low-income children to write computer code so they can have better employment opportunities.
Monday’s program in the rotunda featured musical numbers by the University of Illinois Black Chorus and Milwaukee’s Latino Arts Strings.
Vel Phillips and Dinorah Marquez were announced as MLK Heritage Award winners.
In 1951 Phillips became the first black woman to graduate from UW-Madison’s law school.
She later was the first female judge in Milwaukee County, and the first woman and first black person elected to statewide office as secretary of state.
Marquez is director of Latino Arts Strings. In 2009, she was named Milwaukee Arts Council artist of the year.
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Music Association named her teacher of the year in 2012.