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Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks at Nassau Community College

The Congressional vote to overhaul health care is a "most amazing breakthrough in American history," the Rev. Jesse Jackson told a crowded auditorium at Nassau Community College Monday.

Jackson chided opponents of the legislation. "You mean you want somebody in a restaurant who is cooking your food and serving you not to have health care?" he asked. "It's not only inhumane, it's impractical."

In a wide-ranging speech that touched on the slave trade, the history of Haiti and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Jackson said the next battles for equality will involve jobs, education and immigration.

A civil rights leader and former presidential candidate, Jackson asked for a show of hands of students who are not registered to vote. "You ought to be ashamed of yourselves," he scolded the few who did. "If 10,000 students in this school were registered to vote, no politician in Washington could ignore you. You could ask for more money for scholarships and reduced tuition."

Saying that India, China and other developing countries are educating students much more vigorously than America, Jackson challenged his audience to excel in community college and learn a trade or continue their studies on a four-year campus. For many minority athletes especially, the glory of college basketball stardom during March Madness turns to "May sadness" because of low graduation rates, he said.

The talk at times resembled a sermon, as when Jackson led the crowd in echoing an inspirational slogan: "Whenever the playing field is even and the rules are public and the goals are clear and the referee is fair, we can all make it."

The speech was part of a six-month lecture series marking last November's inauguration of Nassau Community College president Donald Astrab. During informal remarks in the early afternoon, Jackson exhorted students to turn off their televisions and phones and delve into their studies.

Doreen Davis, the college's associate director for financial aid, called the message "terrific," adding, "I'm so glad that he said students need to focus on their education."

Later, Jackson rebuked Republicans in Congress who tried to thwart President Barack Obama's health care reform. "Those who fought against it, they have a pre-existing condition called 'no.' Their pre-existing condition is to bring down the Obama administration at all costs."

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