Rev. Jackson to visit Pick Museum of Anthropology

Lindsey Salvatelli

DeKALB — The Rev. Jesse Jackson will be on campus Tuesday to celebrate the opening of Quilts and Human Rights, a traveling exhibit, and deliver a keynote speech.

Quilts and Human Rights opened in 2008 at Michigan State University and focuses on social justice and human rights issues. When the exhibit closed later that year, the 28 quilts displayed were packaged and became a traveling exhibit, which is now making its way to Cole Hall’s Pick Museum of Anthropology.

Laura McDowell-Hopper, Pick Museum of Anthropology curator, said 15 additions, made by various individuals and organizations, were added to the exhibit with the intent of bringing the quilts up to date, all of which were approved by the original curators.

“It’s arranged on the theme of the United Nation’s declaration of human rights … and strives to outline a sort of baseline level of human decency and respect and nonviolence that humans should have a right to in their lives,” McDowell-Hopper said.

The event was initially supposed to be open during the spring 2017 semester, but McDowell-Hopper said it was pushed back because there will be events held over the next several months in Cole Hall to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Feb. 14, 2008, shooting that occurred on campus.

“You’ll see one of the quilts that we have in here is the memorial quilt that was made after that shooting,” McDowell-Hopper said. “So we thought it was appropriate to extend it longer.”

McDowell-Hopper said she unknowingly sought the assistance of Jackson’s goddaughter Sara Trail’s organization, Social Justice Sewing Academy, while looking for loans for the exhibit. Trail’s organization loaned three quilts made by students in her workshops to the exhibit. 

Social Justice Sewing Academy began as a six-week summer program for high school students in Berkeley, California. It focuses on “empowering young adults to use their experiences and intelligence and creativity to see their worlds and how they see problems,” according to the organization’s website.

In addition to providing loans, McDowell-Hopper said Trail offered to lead an Activist Quilt Block Workshop session at the exhibit’s opening and asked Jackson to make an appearance.

Jackson is a civil rights activist and religious and political leader who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by former President Bill Clinton in August 2000.

Jackson said he is anticipating speaking at NIU for the event.

“We’re very impressed with the Human Rights Quilt project,” Jackson said in an interview with the Northern Star.

McDowell-Hopper said those who wish to participate in the workshop will not need to know how to sew and the blocks contributed by attendees will be included on an NIU community quilt.

“It’s not just his goddaughter’s work that’s in this exhibit, but more broadly, there’s a lot within this exhibit that speaks to the issues that he has championed and advocated for his whole career,” McDowell-Hopper said.

Jackson will deliver the keynote speech 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Pick Museum of Anthropology in Cole Hall.

Piecing Our Stories

Jackson will be delivering the keynote speech at the opening of the Quilts and Humans Rights exhibit, but students will also have the opportunity to speak with him earlier in the day.

The last time Jackson spoke at NIU was Feb. 15, 2008, after the shooting at Cole Hall that killed six students and injured more than a dozen.

Chief Diversity Officer, Vernese Edghill-Walden said she thinks having Jackson on campus for the exhibit’s opening compliments what the exhibit represents.

“I think having him here to talk about human rights, I think, is a very timely discussion,” Edghill-Walden said. “And to have the students be engaged in that conversation is timely and good.”

Edghill-Walden said she hopes the discussion headed by Jackson helps students gain an understanding of the value of being “change agents,” or those who work for change.

“The theme [of Jackson’s student discussion], Piecing Our Stories, I think, is timely because it is important for us to be able to hear diverse perspectives and diverse stories about student experiences,” Edghill-Walden said. “I think this is the perfect opportunity to do that.”

Jackson said he is looking forward to the event, as he feels students are an integral part of national progress.

“Over periods of time, students always were a part of the dynamic of social change and involved in various mass demonstrations,” Jackson said.

Piecing Our Stories: A Student Conversation with Rev. Jesse Jackson will occur 12:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Sandburg Auditorium.

The exhibit will open 5 p.m. Tuesday and be on display at the Pick Musuem of Anthropology until Feb. 24.


Correction: This story previously stated Sara Trail’s organization, Social Justice Sewing Academy, provided financial assistance to the exhibit through loans. This was incorrect. The story now correctly states how the organization loaned three quilts to the exhibit.