Probably, not many people who have watched the Rev. Jesse Jackson over the last six decades were surprised at how quickly the 75-year-old civil and human rights icon sprung into action when a video of a Vietnamese doctor being assaulted by Chicago Aviation Department Police went viral.
Mr. Jackson, a one-time protege of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, immediately called for a boycott of United Airlines. The doctor was a passenger on a United flight when he was beaten and drug down the plane’s aisle when he refused to be voluntarily bumped from the flight.
Boycotts and threats thereof have been one of the most effective arrows in Mr., Jackson’s civil rights quiver over the years. Many contemporary activists see the strategy as “outdated,” but that is due to their inability to strategically apply boycotts the way the Greenville, S.C. native has.
Similar criticisms found their way to Mr. Jackson’s feet last year when he joined a throng of protesters on North Michigan Avenue for a Black Friday demonstration.
There was no shortage of demonstrators decrying Mr. Jackson’s presence. They didn’t realize his participation enhanced the credibility and visibility of the protests. The detractors also failed to see him in a supportive role, rather than the interloper role they tried to ascribe.
Undoubtedly, much of the vitriol directed toward Mr. Jackson stemmed from the fact the masses were primarily millennials, a demographic with no first-hand looks at the stellar civil and human rights achievements the Country Preacher has amassed over the decades.
Many critics choose to use a Jackson-threatened boycott of the Anheuser-Bush companies, which resulted in one of his sons getting an A-B distributorship, as a wedge between his achievements and an understandable move as a father. I offer that few in the identical position would have done anything differently.
What many Jackson detractors may not know or realize is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is far more acceptable to Americans today than during his lifetime. African-Americans, in no small numbers, distanced themselves from him primarily because he was demonized by local, state and Federal government officials. So, for a 20-something Jesse Jackson to approach Dr.King and proclaim he wanted to be a key part of what Dr. King was doing took an enormous amount of courage.
History tells us Dr. King dispatched the young Mr. Jackson to immerse himself in theology. Having followed Dr. King;s directive, Mr. Jackson returned to Alabama and joined the marches Dr. King led. Soon, Mr. Jackson was a full-time employee of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC). Few of us will ever have to endure the tragedy of witnessing someone we admired murdered, the way Mr. Jackson did with Dr. King., If those who idolized Dr. King from afar felt devastated, imagine the impact April 4, 1968, event had on Mr. Jackson. who was a mere few feet away.
One effect we are aware of is like Dr. King, Mr, Jackson believes this country needs to be and can be changed, especially when as it relates to how African Americans and anyone on society’s lower rungs of the ladder. Much of the push to change has been highly visible, some not so.That’s reflected in the initial moniker for PUSH- People United to SAVE Humanity. After a lengthy trial run, the name was transformed in People United to Serve Humanity. PUSH staffers will tell you that for every self-inflicted television minute, there are hundreds of otherd private ones when everyday citizens show up at PUSH’s North Kenwood office seeking his help. Rarely, they say, does he turn away one away even if it as mundane as getting help to pay a Com Ed bill That reality raises the prospect that the families of some of Mr. Jackson’s most caustic critics may have been helped by him over the decades, or maybe as recently as this year.
Being able to create a national conversation about the paucity of Black people in the Fortune 100 C-Suites, or the abysmal minority hiring record by Silicon Valley firms, the auto industry puts Mr. Jackson in rarified air. It is the uniquedness that caused many of Chicago’s Black power brokers to financially, although quietly support Mr. Jackson;s first civil rights organization here, Operation Breadbasket. Many of their checkbooks followed him to PUSH. They didn’t back him for any personal or professional gain. He was the person they believed who could make the difference that was needed in Chicago and the nation when it came to race relations and Black empowerment.
A smattering of Mr. Jackson’s defamers may not have been around to experience that Black euphoria that spread across the nation in 1984 when he made his symbolic run at the presidency. Often though it felt anything but symbolic as the first-time candidate was able to attract legion upon legion of voters who were dissatisfied with the status quo. He had appeal as a bonafide outsider., Armed with the experience of retail politics and defending himself from accusations real and imagined, Mr. Jackson took to the trails again four years later in what felt, smelled, and tasted like a true run for the White House.
Who can tell how many countless candidates adopted Mr. Jackson’s strategy for their own campaigns in subsequent years. The Jackson model tells us it’s imperative to have a candidate to raise issues that more traditional candidates will ignore or are unfamiliar with.
Like every champion, Mr. Jackson is not without his flaws. He embarrassed his family and believers when he acknowledged he had a child out-of-wedlock; a tag that reportedly plagued him as a youngster. He embarrassed his organization when it was revealed some of the money used to support the baby and her mother came from PUSH coffers. Juxtaposed to all of his initiatives and achievements those two issues are no larger than a pinhead.
The ability to craft what seems like a setback into the catalyst for the next civil rights or human rights fight is what sets Mr. Jackson apart, especially from the generation that doesn’t understand or accept that one must go through some things, and come out whole on the other side to be considered a leader,
Those who truly see Mr. Jackson as no longer being an effective voice for the Black community, have two clear options. Do as Mr. Jackson did with Dr. King. Seek him out, advise him you want to be a protege to learn from him, and start putting in the work The other option is launch your.own orgainzation and spend the next five decades building it until it is seen as a force for Black people, In my eyes, anything less is simply not acceptable.