VETERAN civil rights campaigner Reverend Jesse Jackson was on inspirational form during a visit to Deptford Green School in New Cross last week.

The former presidential nominee, a friend of Dr Martin Luther King before his assassination, was in town on a three day visit by Operation Black Vote to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr King’s landmark "I have a dream" speech.

He received a standing ovation and massive cheers as he entered the school hall, shaking the hands of students and teachers.

He held the 200-strong audience of youngsters entranced with a speech that took in Nelson Mandela, Dr King and his own struggle, including an arrest for trying to use a public library in racially-segregated America.

The reverend also led pupils in a series of call and response lines on the importance of hard work and high aspiration, telling them to "choose hope over dope and futures over funerals."

He said: "The dream of equal rights and economic justice has transformed the USA, and of course helped transform the UK and other parts of the world.

"Much progress has been made, but there is unfinished business and more remains to be done.

"There are parallels with the UK and the USA regarding racial disparities and inequalities in unemployment, education, criminal justice at the hands of the police and courts."

He also met three of Lewisham's Young Mayors before taking questions from the audience and sitting down with a handful of lucky students.

Pupil Yasmin Islam, 15, said afterwards: "He's obviously an amazing person and he teaches everyone that, no matter what background you're from, you can achieve your goals.

"He teaches you to carry on and not let anyone stop you."

And 15-year-old Tia-Mariah McBean said: "He shows you that we should just be as one and there should be equal opportunities for everybody, that everyone has a right to fit in and be the best they can be."."