Tennessee Rep. to graduates: ’The world needs your imagination’

May 19, 2023

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Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones delivered the keynote address to graduates of UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy on May 14.

In Berkeley Talks episode 168, Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones delivers the keynote address to graduates of the Goldman School of Public Policy. In his impassioned speech, he urges them to do three things: disrupt, dismantle, discover.

"We are here to disrupt, not just in word, but with our very presence,” he said at the May 14 ceremony. "I come standing with my ancestry. I come in a building as a first non-white member to represent my district. I come as the youngest member. I come as somebody who they said, ’You cannot come with long hair and hoop earrings.” But you can see I’m my full self because we have to disrupt these systems of white supremacy and of patriarchy and of plantation capitalism that have hijacked our nation and that for too long have been the dominant voice.”

Last month, Jones and fellow lawmaker, Justin Pearson, were expelled from the House by the chamber’s Republican majority after leading a group of students in a protest demanding gun reform. It was in response to a recent elementary school shooting in Nashville that left six dead, three of them 9-year-olds.

"A lot of people said, ’What were you thinking when you were expelled from the legislature? What was going through your mind?’ I said, ’Well, this was just another day at the Tennessee General Assembly.’

"Another day where the nation and the world could see what we’re fighting against. Where just two weeks prior, we had a member say that we should bring back hanging by a tree as a form of capital punishment. Where just three weeks prior, I stood on the House floor fighting Tennessee shamefully becoming the first state to ban drag shows, and stood on that floor three weeks to the date of a mass shooting in Nashville and said, ’Drag shows are not a threat to our youth, mass shootings are. Gun violence is the number one cause of death of those age 0 to 17. Let’s talk about real issues, instead of manufacturing crises of division and of fear mongering and trying to erase a community. Let’s be truthful about what we’re up against.’ But instead, we saw what happened.

"These extremists went after fake crises and ignored the very real crisis that was on our doorstep. So, we must disrupt. As we had thousands of students - middle school, high school, college students - many of whom couldn’t even vote, many of whom felt disenfranchised, but all of whom came to the capitol saying, ’We’re in fear of our lives,’ I knew that we could not be silenced.”

Read more about his address in story, "Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones urges students: Disrupt, dismantle, discover.”

Watch a video of Jones’ speech below.

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By Public Affairs

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