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Former NAACP president talks about Kemp’s legacy

Ben Jealous believes one of the Buffalo region’s two great civil rights legacies is the Niagara Movement, the predecessor to the organization he once led.

The other such legacy Buffalo can boast about, according to the former NAACP president, is a man Jealous called a “privileged white man” but one who stood up for minorities – the late Jack Kemp.

Jealous, who was in Buffalo on Thursday, described two things Kemp said that always stuck with him.

Kemp was once asked how he could be both running to be the Republican party nominee for president while at the same time being a card-carrying member of the NAACP. To that, the former Buffalo Bills quarterback – who played professional football during the late 1950s and the 1960s – responded, “You know, I’ve never thought about that before, but now that I do, I’ve never had a problem fighting for the rights of men I used to shower with,” Jealous recalled Kemp saying.

Then there was the time when Jealous and the former congressman, housing secretary and vice presidential candidate were at an event in South Central Los Angeles marking the 10-year anniversary of what Jealous termed the “uprising” that followed the verdicts in the Rodney King case.

“Jack was on stage, on fire about improving education for children in that neighborhood. And his refrain that day was, ‘Our kids, our kids, our kids,’ ” Jealous recalled. “It was so unfamiliar for so many people from that neighborhood to see a privileged white man referring to children who looked like them, who came from their families, as if they were from his family, too.”

Jealous came to Buffalo to speak at Canisius College’s Black History Month celebration at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.

In an interview with The Buffalo News before the event, the man who was the youngest person to ever lead the NAACP talked about why he supports Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic presidential nominee.

“At the end of the day, when it comes to matters of civil and human rights, Bernie has been the most consistent and the most courageous,” he said.

Jealous described Republican front-runner Donald Trump this way: “Donald Trump, like most reactionary populists, is a mixed bag. There are many things he says that are deeply disturbing and, in addition to that, there are some things he says that make sense.”

“When he talks about building a wall with Mexico, it’s safe to say, he is behaving in a way that is xenophobic, impractical, anti-human rights and defies common sense. When he talks about ending tax breaks for hedge fund managers that make it possible for them to pay a lower tax rate than their secretary, it’s difficult to argue with it.”

Back on the region’s civil rights legacy, Jealous said Buffalo should unapologetically champion both the Niagara Movement and Kemp.

“Jack’s legacy reminds us that we’re all brothers and sisters and we all have the responsibility to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, even if we’re a different color, even if we’re from a different neighborhood, even if we’re from a different state,” he said.

“And I would add, to Mr. Trump, even if we’re from a different country.”

email: abesecker@buffnews.com