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Strengthening Black families, educating ourselves will make the world better

Sen. Alvin Jackson, R-Highland, speaks before the Senate on Friday, March 6, 2015.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The news of the last few weeks regarding race in America almost had me convinced that America is inherently a racist country. After serious inward reflection, speaking to my children and my mother and having a prayer in my heart, I realized how infinitely blessed I am because I live in the United States of America.

The conversations I had with my dear mother and my stepfather were particularly poignant, as they again shared with me their personal experiences growing up in the segregated south. Both went to schools designated only for Black people and they remember not getting the best seats in movie theaters, restaurants and other public places.

My stepdad, who was raised a sharecropper in Alabama by his grandmother, never knew his own dad, as he was lynched by a white mob. His mom later succumbed to cancer. He went on to join the Marine Corps to escape the cotton fields of his home, which included a tour in Vietnam. He has shared countless stories with my family regarding that harrowing experience and later his 23 years of valiant service in the D.C. police department from 1969 to 1992.

I asked my parents about the racism they experienced then versus today, and they both smiled. The narrative being promoted by some is false, in their minds. Yes, they recognize that racism still exists and it’s primarily viewed from the eyes of the beholder; however, they never let what they experienced become a permanent obstacle. My mom went on to college then received a graduate degree so she could become a schoolteacher, which she did for over 30 years.

My mom taught my brother and me that the presumption is against us because of the tone of skin, but let that not be an excuse not to work hard and become educated. She would not allow us to label ourselves as victims or point the finger at others for our own personal failures.

She also admonished us to stay out of trouble and to marry before we had children. We recognized, as a family, the brutal nature of some policemen, but my mom said the best way to avoid it was not to commit a crime. Unfortunately, these values aren’t being taught today in the Black community, as 73% of children are born without a father in the home. This sad statistic opens the door to increased poverty, lack of education and hopelessness, which leads to either greater dependence upon the government or crime as a means to survive.

It’s my hope that the current debate on race leads to real solutions that involve shoring up the Black family — and any family, for that matter — as strong families translate into strong communities. It’s my greatest hope that corporate America, that routinely underemploys people of color and promotes policies designed for profit instead of giving people an opportunity to gain credit or loans, are relaxed, thereby creating hope. It’s my hope that the elite of Hollywood and other prominent people who send their children to private schools will fight for the same freedom of choice for parents in the inner city, so they can move their kids from failing schools.

It’s my hope that the posts on social media actually translate into real action, which prompts individuals to leave their safe neighborhoods to mentor, tutor or become a Big Brother or Sister to disadvantaged kids. My sweet 20-year old daughter, Mary Alice, announced last night in our family Zoom call that she’s signed up to be a Big Sister to a young lady who comes from a home replete with poverty and incarceration.

It’s my hope that people not of my color, who really want to better understand the Black experience, will study the lives of prominent African Americans of the past, such as Frederick Douglass, Dr. Martin Luther King, George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Madame Walker, Mary McLeod Bethune and many others; that they will read books from prominent authors such as Thomas Sowell, Toni Morrison, Walter Mosley, etc. This will give them insight into the experience of Black America, as their stories inspire, uplift and highlight the roadmap to justice and equality.

May we become better people by educating ourselves and looking for opportunities to serve. Doing so will make this world a better place.

Alvin Jackson is a former Utah state senator representing District 14. He now lives in the Washington, D.C., area, serving as the CEO of Salt Lake City-based company BeVoco. He and his wife, Juleen, are the parents of five children, including New Orleans Pelicans star Frank Jackson.