DENMARK -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson encouraged a room full of Voorhees College students on Thursday to continue to “rebel” by exercising their right to vote.
"We rebelled by voting," Jackson told enthusiastic students during a morning assembly and voter registration drive at Massachusetts Hall. "It was a counterrevolutionary act."
Asking the students to repeat after him, Jackson said, "I have the power to elect the next president. I have the power to elect the next governor."
Jackson, a former candidate for president, provided the students with an overview of the history of African Americans in the United States and the struggle to obtain the right to vote.
"Black lives did not matter for a long time," Jackson said.
Jackson said 1.2 million African Americans are eligible to vote in South Carolina, but only 900,000 are registered. He has started an initiative to get another 100,000 African Americans registered to vote and turn out in the upcoming primaries.
Voters must be registered by Jan. 27 to participate in the upcoming South Carolina presidential primaries.
The Republican primary will be held on Feb. 20 and the Democratic primary is scheduled for Feb. 27.
Jackson encouraged the students to not only vote but also to get educated about the election process and to continue their studies.
"Learning to read and write is revolutionary," he said. Jackson asked the students to repeat: "If I don't choose to learn to read or write I am volunteering to be a slave."
"High school students should vote because it will mean more scholarships for them. College students should vote because student loans add to greater credit card debt. Adults should vote because medical needs are unpredictable in their coverage and their costs," he said.
Jackson declined to say who he supports, but did say the candidates on the Democratic Party ticket understand the needs of the African-American community.
Jackson was joined by motivational speaker Keith “Mr. I’m Possible” Brown, who had the audience laughing, clapping and shouting words of approval.
Brown encouraged the young men and women to focus on things of value and not material wealth and to know that “it is not important to have a certain number of friends, but friends you can be certain of.”
"The company you keep will determine the levels you reach," he said. "Stop hanging around with those who devalue you, but those who celebrate you."
Junior biology major Akirah Hills was one of the several dozen students at the rally who was not registered to vote. Hills forgot to register upon turning 18 when she received her driver's license and has not registered since.
But Jackson and Brown both inspired her to get involved in the political process and register.
"What I learned today is that I really need to get out there and register to vote,” Hills said.
Junior computer science major Jeremey Spann, 22, said he sees voting as a way to help others.
"Some folks don't get the help they need," Spann said. "By voting you can express your voice and let those people know how you feel so you can do something for your community.”