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Reverend Jesse Jackson at Cannes Lions: ‘Everybody has some genius’

Cannes Lions is no stranger to high-profile speakers, but even among the usual slew of big-name guests, Reverend Jesse Jackson’s name stands out. The civil rights activist, politician and minister has been an advocate for social justice for over 50 years, and took the stage at Cannes to discuss the state of the world and his work as founder of the Rainbow PUSH coalition (RPC).

The session was opened by Richard Edelman, founder of the Edelman group, who introduced Jackson, and discussed the role of brands in a time of political and social instability. He said: “We live in a time of the power of belief. It’s time for all of us in Cannes to step up, to listen to Jesse Jackson’s wisdom. He understands how to harness this passion and to actually make change.”

Following sustained applause as he made his way to the stage, Jackson began his address with a direct message to the assembled audience of media and advertising professionals: “You can change the world, your platform is powerful and your power to do good is immense. Advertising over the years has helped to push boundaries and knock down walls. Topics such as interracial and same-sex marriage have been brought to the forefront of the social consciousness in no small measure through their depiction in advertising.”

As well-versed as anyone in the subject, Jackson elucidated the conditions that lead to inequality, and an unfair society: “Many of you are constrained by what you can’t see, what you haven’t been exposed to, what you don’t know exists. What you haven’t imagined, as John Lennon might say. We’re all in danger of living in racial and ethnic silos, surrounded by people who look and think like us, which means we’re blind to other cultures.”

Lack of sight was a central theme to Jackson’s address: “It’s about avoiding the limitations of racial branding. The world is diverse. We can see the world through a keyhole with 20-20 vision and still not see very much.”

He continued, moving on to the role of global business, and people’s attitudes in a more globalised society: “We’ll globalise capital and technology, yet we won’t globalise human rights, and workers rights, and children’s rights. We’ve learned to live apart now we must learn to live together.”

Jackson used the analogy of two seeds growing either side of a wall to describe lack of access to resources. While one grows and bears fruit, and one fails develop. “It doesn’t mean the taller one is better, it means it has access to sunshine. When the walls come down they can both realise their potential. Walls lead to ignorance, and fear, hatred and violence. We must pull down those walls.”

Edelman asked Jackson to discuss the media, and how to bring more diverse groups in: “By inviting them in. That’s the first thing. And by leadership showing an example. We must tell that story. If you constantly hear ‘no’, and see ‘no’, then you believe ‘no’. You must mean to go out and open up the marketplace.”

Jackson’s final words for the crowd in the Lumiere Theatre were an encouraging call to use their talents: “Your capacity to think and create. I want you to use your creativity, and imagine, and make the world better.”

For the latest updates and highlights, download the official Cannes Lions app, presented by the Guardian.