Tightrope. Navigating Life As A Black Man In America

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Black Facts.com

By Kymberly Amara

Black men in America are faced with the insurmountable task of balancing their personal and professional lives daily to acquiesce to a system that seldomly values them. Even if one has been able to navigate the obstacles placed before them, doing it is one thing but doing it successfully is an entirely different feat. One man who has managed to do this fairly well is entrepreneur, mentor, thought-leader, and Fortune 50 leader, D. John Jackson.

Making it in America is hard enough as it is. Unfortunately, those who may find it necessary to move in diverse circles or seize limited opportunities to play the game, have often been given a difficult time, especially Black men. They are often criticized for not keeping it real or placating to society and a system that has historically shown it hates us. But, successfully navigating this world as a Black man should not be frowned upon. Jackson, who is all too familiar with plotting a course in limiting and challenging spaces, took a moment to chat with Heart & Soul and discuss his book and the importance of mentorship.

What About Me…

Motivated by his life experiences, Jackson recently penned a book, “What About Me: Walking The Tightrope As A Black Man In America.” In the book, Jackson shares his personal experiences and life lessons in hopes of helping others who may be experiencing challenges in theirs. “I started writing the book years ago and finally came into really solidifying it with the title. The book is really more about my life and how I can pour back into the world based on my experiences and what I’ve experienced. The documentary is really about Black men and boys in general and the commonalities.”

Given the precarious and delicate environment we are currently living through, many would consider the “What About Me” project to be right on time. Recognizing the importance of this moment, Jackson partnered with colleagues and got started, “If I’m going to be serious about the business about what I want to do, I have to use my resources to commit to that. So the question remains, what about me and what does it mean? According to Jackson, “It’s a demonstrative statement more than a question but it is a rhetorical question because in a broader sense…for anybody that has been underrepresented and marginalized you’re like, man everybody kind of forgets about us.” But how and why could we forget a creative mastermind and visionary who is a leader at a Fortune 50 company? Sadly, this happens every day to Black men like Jackson who are often left feeling like they are walking a tightrope.

Jackson says that respecting all people regardless of race, ethnicity, or socio-economic background was instilled in him at an early age, but that his parents and grandmother also stressed to him that people would treat him differently based on how he looked, talked, walked, etc… Contrary to what some may believe, how we are treated matters and as young Black men and women growing up in a hostile environment, Black parents must educate their children rather early and quickly to prepare them for the harshness they will face in the world.

Mentoring The Future…

Black men are especially under harsh scrutiny and criticism as they get older and transition from boys to men. They are often deemed as being too aggressive or angry when it comes to how they react or respond. Keenly aware of this, Jackson had to be cool despite the offenses that were being committed against him. Although he did not have a mentor himself as he entered the corporate world, Jackson says, “You always hear about this notion of mentors and granted, there are a lot of mentors and things that go on now but there’s still not a lot the way people think it is. You come into a company and they take you under their wing and show you what to do. Well you know, I never had that and I was fortunate to have people throughout my career that were placed there like divine rams in a bush to give me wise counsel and advice and kind of look out for me but at the same time, I had some hellions and those experiences, yea they created mental trauma. In some cases, I harshly retreated, the micro-aggressions and as you’re young you’re like ok the first thing you do is get angry but you know you can’t do that, hence why I wrote in the book…walking the tightrope as a Black man because I’ve been on that rope from the time I got into school.”

Jackson realizes that while some of his peers felt they could “do what they wanted to do,” he understood that this system that he was navigating was a game of chess and not checkers and would require him to learn how to play the game to survive and thrive as a Black man in America. Despite the stress and pressure, Jackson realized that his lived experiences were learning opportunities that needed to be shared with others to help them walk this proverbial tightrope too. After penning his experiences for five years on a notepad, he was ready. “I was strong enough to endure and to still overcome…”When I entered into the real world, here was the reality, and that reality is like aha we’ve given you all of these tools but guess what you’re on this tightrope by yourself.

Jackson, who still works in corporate America also has a production company, 5J Entertainment. While continuing to separately balance the two, Jackson has struck a sweet spot as he has had opportunities to train and speak to corporate entities and their staff to help improve diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in an authentic way. Jackson says that it is his, “pleasure, privilege, and duty,” to educate others on the harsh reality and historically lived experiences of Black people in America. Participants attend sessions such as, Through History with DJJ and Diversity Discussions with DJJ. Through these sessions and other moments, Jackson takes participants through a very candid and frank conversation and experience to help raise awareness, educate, and enlighten.                                                 

Beyond this, Jackson also makes time to mentor other young men. We may be years removed from the overt violence and oppression of segregation, Jim Crowe, and slavery, but there is a need for mentorship due to the pervasive notion that we live in a post-racial society. This idea leaves many vulnerable to the dangers that we’ve seen from the past and present (e.g. chattel slavery and George Floyd). Understanding both the perceived threat of Black men as well as the large gap between older and younger generations, Jackson has made a concerted effort to mentor future generations and is not only an advocate for Black men but passionate about educating, informing, and promoting positive narratives of Black men through the “What About Me” book and documentary. Jackson is the perfect example for future generations as he has navigated being an accomplished and highly successful Black man in corporate America for 35 years which is no easy feat and many aren’t able to do this.

D. John Jackson.