Who Is Jonathan Butler's Father? Eric L. Butler Taught His Son About Advocacy & Community Involvement

The University of Missouri graduate student whose weeklong hunger strike raised awareness about racial discrimination on campus was born to a father who is a prominent railroad executive and local preacher. Jonathan Butler's father, Eric Butler, is the executive vice president of Union Pacific Railroad Network’s marketing and sales sector. With a VP position in the United States' largest railroad network, Eric Butler rang in at $8.4 million in total 2014 earnings, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Finances, however, are an irrelevant subject of conversation when it comes to the gravity of Jonathan's Butler’s advocacy and his father’s influence. Most importantly, Butler chose to go on a hunger strike for reasons that extended past his own. The race issue is made of many faces. In a speech earlier this week, Butler pleaded that people stop centering attention around him.

Please stop focusing on the fact of the Mizzou hunger strike itself ... Look at why did we have to get here in the first place. And why the struggle. And why we had to fight the way that we did.

A number of publications have criticized Butler for claiming to be oppressed when his father's earnings put his family well in the top range of annual income among Americans. Here are three reasons they're seriously missing the point.

Butler's Family Promotes Activism And Community Involvement

Does privilege exempt an individual from advocating for equality? No. Butler might come from money, but it makes no difference in the scheme of him risking his life for racial justice. In an interview with The Washington Post, Butler maintains — without mention of his father’s prominent position — that his family has encouraged activism since he was a child.

And they used their talents, my mother both in education and my father having a law background, really to do advocacy for the community, and I think as a young child that’s where it started.

High income doesn’t stop his mother and father, Cynthia and Eric Butler, from contributing to the community. According to the Omaha World Herald, a family friend describes them as "incredibly humble and low profile." Eric Butler preaches alongside Cynthia, a former educator, in Omaha’s Joy of Life Ministries — an experience that surely instilled a sense of community in Jonathan.

Eric Butler Worked His Way To The Top

Eric Butler didn’t squander or inherit this money — he earned it. Jonathan's father began working for Union Pacific in 1986 and held various positions in the company before being hired as vice president of marketing and sales in 2012. If anything, his ascension within the company represents a narrative that isn’t far from the overused, albeit applicable term "the American Dream." Eric Butler's success should be looked up to, not brought down. Butler's family is clearly not defined by their money, and Jonathan is already well on his way to forming his own singular identity as he pursues a master’s in educational leadership and policy analysis.

"Oppressed" Doesn't Always Equal "Poor"

Although an individual might be oppressed because he or she doesn’t earn enough money to maintain a basic quality of life, oppression comes in many frightening forms. Black students and even professors at the University of Missouri experienced racial slurs that were all too clearly directed at them. For example, University of Missouri journalism professor Cynthia Frisby, who has worked at the University for 18 years, wrote, “I have been called the N-word too many times to count.” Those demeaning words were based solely on the color of those students' skin — a physical attribute much simpler than family history or financial status.