Sunday, July 24, 2016

An Enduring Glimpse of Unity

Today, my Army Brat life caught up with me and left me with a difficult choice. Three dear families called for my presence at huge celebrations honoring togetherness,  friendship and persevering love. The celebrations were geographically distant from each other, giving me no possibility of appearing at all of them.

I love Hanau American High School,  Westover Senior High and the Racine Fil-Am community! My decision was made for me and, in Army fashion, based on seniority. I have been a part of the Hanau American High School family for the longest time and other business called for me to already be in the city in which its festivities were held, so to the reunion Luz and I went.

It was a wonderful event, filled with laughter, tears and the kinds of warmth deep and abiding friendships bring. It was also a reminder of a very special time in my personal history when I was blessed to live in a truly racially reconciled community. Friendships,  courtship, tensions and struggles were not based on race but truly made  according to one's character.  What side of the cafeteria did kids sit on? The same side as their rainbow of friends who just hung out because they wanted to!

The buildings that housed our community have largely been destroyed, yet the bond of unity that was forged during the era known as the Cold War endures. I regret that the rest of the nation cannot enjoy the unity our parents' duty created for us to experience.  If only America could glean the sweetness of togetherness that it dreams of, yet for us remains a reality.

To my Hanau American High School family,  how sweet it is to be loved by you! To the families that I  have since joined and who hold equally dear places in my heart,  I've got plenty of love left to share and look forward to passing it on in the days and years to come!

Your Brother,
Sam Jackson
Hanau American High School Class of 1981

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Peril of Violence

This erupting violence against police officers, if continued, will contribute to the denigrating of our nation. Dr. King laid a foundation that we are beginning to see erode. The unshakable commitment to nonviolence was the high moral ground upon which the first gains of Civil Rights were won. If that foundation is abandoned, this entire nation will suffer. The Bible warns that the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Anger must be sanctified and purified through prayer and reflection and then channeled into productive, restorative and healing action. If we resort to violent acts, we will be consumed and every lash, tear, loss and heartache experienced by our ancestors will be for naught. Put down your weapons and lift up one another. Otherwise, our doom is sure and all the lofty dreams of those who have gone before will die with us.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Continuing to March

The sharing of stories is powerful and helpful. Each one of us has a story. The recent stories of racial struggle have sparked many more that I am thankful are now being shared. I find some commonality in many of the stories I hear, but like every human experience, I find that some elements are unique to my own journey. I am prompted to share more of my own, as I have encountered hurting friends who need to know they are not walking alone.

I am a Brat. The son of a career Airborne NCO who was a 1SG in the 82nd when I entered West Point and promoted to CSM shortly thereafter. 
I was surrounded by positive Black role models and positive examples of humanity from numerous backgrounds during my growing up years. While being a Brat and the son of an Old School English teacher saddled me with the "California, standard, unremarkable English" dialect, I was very well connected to my blackness through Mississippi-born parents, lots of Black friends and numerous challenging encounters borne of being at the leading edge of full-fledged integration.  Nevertheless,  there were enough positive experiences in my life to lull me to the sleep of the naive in my awareness of the pervasiveness of racism in the nation and its systems.

My time at West Point was racially a blend of experiences, ranging from warm acceptance by many to jarring rejections and rude interruptions of reality by a few. The extremes of my experience are best illustrated in two incidents.  As a Plebe, I  was invited to a champagne brunch at the Hotel Thayer by a family friend and general officer whose son was a very close high school friend and a yearling at that time. The brunch was a Plebe's dream and I attempted to engorge myself using the absolute best manners within my powers to display. All was well, until my friend asked a few of his classmates who were also present about a group date the night before. One particularly chatty individual chimed in right away, "Can you believe they stuck me with a Nigger?"  I was beyond stunned. I was the only Plebe at the table and I  am sure that the forces holding me in my chair were years of Army protocol and Jesus. Nevertheless, I could not hide my face. My friend instantly and physically collared his classmate and excused them both. Upon their return, the apologies were plentiful, but the damage was done. My sentiments were best expressed years later by Denzel in the movie Glory when he confronted Andre Brougher's Freeman character about how whites viewed them as soldiers,

"You can speak the white man's English, wear his clothes and sing his songs. But no matter what you say or do, you ain't never gonna  be nothing more to him than an ugly ass a blue suit!"

That sentiment clings to my soul to this day. Nevertheless,  I  press on. Why? There are paths to be cleared forn those who follow. During my Yearling year,  our company,  the F-2 Zoo, was detailed to represent West Point at the last official bicentennial event the nation would hold. As we marched in parade of that upstate town, the crowds were absolutely white. No issues.  As we marched back to the buses, still in our parade configuration and still on the streets there was an eerie silence that surrounded us.- kind of like the artificial town of Rockridge in Blazing Saddles - people seemed to be present, but not moving and totally silent. I had to look.  I glanced over and just at that moment my eyes met those of a young brother and I smiled. We were in the black part of town.  He yelled, "Hey! There's a BROTHER in there!" Someone else yelled, "I see him and there's two more! (Plebes Gaddis and Isom.) The streets erupted into cheering! It was one of my proudest West Point moments. I understood that for my people, my presence matters.

Therefore, we soldier on. We continue to fight the good fight because it matters for all who follow. Our Rockbound Highland Home has issues. We will process those issues differently according to our own personal experiences, but we must walk together as well process. I stand with those who return frequently and with those who choose not to. My love abounds for all and my support is as undying as the long Gray line that has such a powerful grip on us all.

Let us continue to march together as we grip hands through this amazing and challenging journey we call life.

Sam Jackson
USMA 1985

Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

Friday, July 8, 2016

Peace In Our Time

Proverbs 10:19 warns that  "Sin is not ended by multiplying words,but the prudent hold their tongues. "

The events of the last 72 hours have jolted the nation and stir many emotions, priming hearts to produce many words. Realizing that words are both powerful and inadequate in addressing the troubles of our times, I am compelled to share and will likely share many times in the days ahead as we reflect as individuals and collectively as a nation.

The words that come to mind most urgently in this season of tension and pain are these: "Fear not!"  To people of faith, the Scriptures instruct us that while upheavals come, tragedies abound and cataclysms disrupt, we should not live in fear. We are reminded that "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and of clear thinking."  When life slams us with the unbearable, we have spiritual resources that allow us to face challenges with strength,  to respond to hatred with love,  and to enter chaos with reason and resolve.

Wisdom dispels the naivete that the world is a safe place. While I am surprised by the specific manifestations of evil we have experienced this week, I am not surprised that evil has surfaced and struck at the heart of the nation. While our nation is great, it is flawed, and our flaws have wrought violence in various forms throughout our history.

We must not allow eruptions of evil to lull us into sentimental mourning or rile us to mindless rage. We must comfort those who have been savagely violated, remember and honor those who have perished in fighting the good fight, and renew our resolve to continue to work for the good and to resist what is evil, as evil will surely manifest itself again as our lives inevitably return to a semblance of normalcy.

I hate the evil of our times, but I am not undone by it. I abhor the hatred and ignorance that have destroyed so many precious lives but I will not be overcome by them. Hate will not be defeated by hate.  Racism will not by destroyed by prejudice. Love conquers all. Love gives courage. Love feeds conviction. Love produces fearless action.

Let us arise from the crushing blows that have been dealt us not with impotent sentimentality or disabling and misplaced rage. Let love lift us to meaningful action in our own corners of the world - action that speaks peace into chaos, reason to ignorance and direction and hope into apathy and hopelessness.

The times are wicked, but God has given me the hope and peace that my Jesus displayed when he faced the ultimate evil on the cross.  He offers that peace to us, and I eagerly embrace it now. May God grant you peace in these troubled days and hope that will renew your strength and lift your spirits enabling you to live now and forever with power, love and clear thinking.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Why The Liberty Bell is Cracked

The last words of the American Pledge of Allegiance ring with the promise of goodness and greatness, “…with liberty and justice for all.”  The potential is great for a people who take such lofty ideals to heart. The reality can be even greater when these ideals are truly representative of the dealings and lifestyles of a people in the normal course of life.  However, when the rivers of justice have been diverted by corruption and the streams of righteousness tainted by evil doing, the words of the Pledge ring hollow and the potential promise seems unattainable.

Liberty and justice go hand in hand.  Without liberty, justice cannot be served and without justice, liberty cannot be fully experienced.  In the last few days, we as a nation have witnessed concurrent miscarriages of justice, so bold and brazen, that the reality of the injustice leaves us stunned and wondering what it means for the nation’s future.  The decisions surrounding former Secretary of State Clinton communicate an unquestionable double standard for the “high and mighty.”  The seeming unending deaths of African-American men at the hands of people in authority without the benefit of due process cause those of us who believe in the rule of law and who pray and work for peace to wonder how long a nation can endure under the weight of such disparities of justice.

Proverbs 20:10 says, “A double standard of weights and measures— both are disgusting to the Lord.” Disgust is the appropriate emotion for the manifestations of injustice and evil that are becoming more and more prevalent in the United States.  Perhaps our Liberty Bell cracked at its initial ringing and cracked again after the attempt to repair it as a warning – Liberty cannot fully be experienced without justice.  At our nation’s beginning, we sang of liberty while more than half of our inhabitants remained in chains.  The songs of liberty remain muted by the cacophony of injustice we are seeing in our midst today. 

If liberty has a price, injustice exacts a higher price still.  Should we fail to “proclaim liberty” and renege to “let justice flow down like a river” we will encounter costs more severe than taxation by the British, and chains more oppressive than those that bound the slaves who built the infrastructure of this land over a century ago.   The Liberty Bell remains cracked.  I am now beginning to understand why.