Over the weekend, renowned television host Oprah Winfrey returned to her alma mater of Tennessee State University to deliver a powerful message.
Speaking at the university's annual commencement ceremony, Winfrey praised the local lawmakers who received national attention after being expelled from their seats on the State House of Representatives. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, two young Black men, were removed from their elected positions by the Republican majority after participating in a peaceful protest over gun control. The White woman who also participated, Gloria Johnson, was allowed to keep her seat.
The three representatives stood in solidarity with protestors in the wake of the Nashville covenant school shooting, which left six dead. The perpetrator used an assault rifle, which Democratic lawmakers in the state have sought to restrict to no avail after pushback from Republicans.
In her speech, Winfrey praised Jones and Pearson for their bravery, while slamming Republican lawmakers for their undemocratic practices and inaction on gun control.
“The leaders are behaving like children,” she said. “The children are being gunned down by military-grade assault rifles.”
After their expulsion, Democrats rallied behind Jones and Pearson, who were soon after reinstated to their seats in the interim by local election boards. The two, alongside Johnson, were also invited to the White House to speak with President Joe Biden.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 203 mass shootings in the United States in 2023 as of Winfrey's speech, the most recent taking place at a shopping mall in Allen, Texas, where at least eight people were killed and seven others were injured.
“Representatives like Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson are using their lives to prove the cynics wrong,” Winfrey said. “And they’re building on the legacy of giants, mentors of mine like John Lewis, whose fight for justice started right here in Nashville.”