Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson turned 77
on October 8, 2018. Nobody has led a less storied life. He first
took a public stand for civil rights when he was just a kid
attempting to use the library in his hometown of Greenville, South
Carolina. His activism brought him to the attention of Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr., and he served Dr. King for years before his
assassination. From then, Rev. Jackson founded and led Operation
Breadbasket, the Rainbow Coalition, and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
Along the way he ran for President twice, gaining millions of
multiracial votes and enough support to provide him with significant
influence on Democratic platforms.
One of the most important things
about Rev. Jackson is the way that he empowered others. When I
listened to the “Colored Girls” – Minyon Moore,
Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry and Donna Brazile – speak their
truth at the National Museum of African American History and Culture
on October 1, I was reminded that Jackson has been pivotal in the
lives of so many African American political figures. We can call the
roll, and name names, but I won’t do that for fear of leaving
someone out. What I will say is that there would be no President
Barack Obama were there not a Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm who ran
for President in 1972, nor a Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson, who ran for
President in 1984 and 1988.
Jackson changed the way that African
American people saw ourselves politically. Before him, we thought we
could not make a difference. Because of him, we know that we can.
Before him, we did not believe, in his words, that “the hands
that picked peaches could pick Presidents”. Because of him
Stacy Abrams is a possible winner (if we vote) as governor of
Georgia; Andrew Gillum is a possible winner as governor of Florida,
and unlikely candidates for Congress are poised to win. Thanks to
Rev. Jesse Jackson, African American people claimed political
audacity. We don’t have to wait our turn, follow the rules,
and defer to the status quo. We can, like Ayanna S. Pressley,
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Lucy McBath, just buck up against the
system and decide to do it our way. We don’t have to climb up
the ladder of a broken party system, or wait for the blessing of the
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Instead, we can step
out when the time is right and the possibilities are there.
Nearly 45 years after his historic
run for President, Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson is engaged in multiple
fights. He is fighting for social and economic justice, as he always
has, ever since he defied library protocol and insisted on his right
to have access to a taxpayer funded public library. He is fighting
police brutality and the unnecessary murders of young black men like
Chicago’s own LaQuan McDonald. He is fighting for young people
to thrive in a nation that is biased against them. And he is in the
personal fight of his life, fighting Parkinson’s disease as
passionately as he fights injustice.
Those of us who know Rev. Jackson well are
excited by his good days, and concerned by the days that are not so
good. We see the occasional slowed gait, shaking hands and slurred
speech, but we also see the days when his rhetorical representation
is as excellent as it ever was, and then we cheer. WE know that this
is an indefatigable leader, one who will be no more slowed by a
physical impediment than he has been by structural racism. And so we
cheer whenever we see him stand up, whether he is standing on his own
might, or whether he is assisted. We cheer the long and fruitful
life of a civil rights icon who has made the world better for so many
people, and opened the door for hundreds of African American
I am writing this from a profoundly
biased space. I met Rev. Jackson nearly 50 years ago, when I was an
Essence Magazine intern supervised by Chicagoan Leniece Taylor, who
was a friend of Rev. Jackson’s. I’ve been connected
since then, as a delegate in 1984, a campaign surrogate in 1988, a
family friend, and most recently President of PUSH/EXCEL the
education arm of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. I could not have been
more delighted than when the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation
bestowed Rev. Jesse and Mrs. Jacqueline Jackson a lifetime
achievement award, both because they deserve it, but also because
Mrs. Jackie doesn’t often get the recognition she should get as
“the wind beneath his wings”. I’m biased, y’all,
and that’s just that.
Our icon, our leader, is celebrating
another birthday, and that’s a great thing! He is fighting, as
he always has, injustice; but he is also fighting Parkinson’s.
And he is not yielding space in either fight. If you appreciate Rev.
Jackson as much as I do, let him know! You can go to the Rainbow
website, www.rainbowpush.org to send a note, or you can hit him up on
Facebook. Let’s rain this brother down with birthday blessings
for his years of service.