OAKLAND — During a stop in West Oakland on Tuesday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson congratulated the McClymonds High School boys basketball team for making it to the state championships this year.

Then, as hundreds of their peers looked on, he drilled three of the players about their work ethic — on and off the court.

"You practice seven days a week, four hours a day, with no radio, no TV, no telephone, no social visits. And when you get tired, you suck it up and keep on pushing," he said, summarizing what the young men had told him.

"Do you study seven days a week? Do you study three hours a night? Do you study two hours a night?"

Later, Jackson explained, "It's not easy to become one of the two best teams in the state. Here you are, at the top. But there's no magic in this. You paid the price."

The civil rights activist visited the West Oakland McClymonds Educational Complex on Tuesday during a scholarship tour with his social justice organization, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Two high school students — Darielle Davis and Isaac Taggart — were among 40 Bay Area seniors to receive a total of

$75,000 in scholarships from the group.

But the former presidential candidate had more to offer than a congratulatory word. He delivered incisive messages about the importance of hard work and education, and he urged the youths not to make excuses.

"If you can't read and write, people will pity you, but they will not hire you," he said, one of the many motivational lines he asked the youths to repeat during the assembly.


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Jackson asked students to stand if they knew someone their age who was dead or in jail because of drugs, if they knew someone who had brought a gun to school, or who had considered suicide.

Each time he asked a question, at least one-fourth of the kids rose from their seats.

Although he spoke of the pervasive inequalities in the American educational system, he cautioned his young audience not to let their hardships cause them to drop out of school or turn to crime.

"As tough as things are in Oakland, it's not like picking cotton in Mississippi or Alabama," he said.

Midway through his address, Jackson turned his attention to a few students in the audience who were talking.

"Hey, hey, hey! Give me your attention," he said. "I'm trying to keep you out of jail."

Jackson, who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, has been a household name for decades. Through his organization, the minister has pushed for tighter gun control and has criticized gangsta rap music for degrading minorities and women.

E-mail Katy Murphy at kmurphy@oaklandtribune.com.

Many of the Oakland students interviewed before the assembly were aware of Jackson's connection to King. It was harder to find someone who knew that the Civil Rights leader twice had attempted to become the first African American in the White House — despite the buzz surrounding Sen. Barack Obama's campaign.

Jackson's two presidential campaigns, in 1984 and 1988, took place before the high school seniors were born.

"I feel like younger people don't really know about Jesse Jackson," said Bineeisha Oliver, a senior at EXCEL High School. "All we see is Obama."

Yetunde Reeves, principal of EXCEL High School at McClymonds, said the United States history curriculum doesn't even reach the 1960s era until late spring — something that the faculty might consider changing next year.

Jackson might not be running for office in 2008, but he did his best to bring the West Oakland students into the political process.

"If you're 18 and older and you're not a registered voter, come on down," he said at the end of the assembly.

And just like that, dozens of Oakland youth signed up to select the nation's next president and other political leaders who will decide what their education — and their children's education — is worth.

E-mail Katy Murphy at kmurphy@oaklandtribune.com.