How the Colors We See can Blind Ourselves

Solving complex issues and thinking fast comes in handy, especially when you are in potentially life threatening situations. For my friend Anthony Jackson, it’s second nature to him. He thrives at it, and uses this ability to serve us all, while wearing a bulletproof vest to work.

This time he did not need it, as the only threat was the unsolved phrase in front of him. The Wheel of Fortune bus came to Richmond in 2018, and Anthony was randomly selected to come on stage. No sweat, solved the puzzle with ease. Then invited for the next audition, 15 puzzles to solve in 5 minutes; was able to get through 8 of them. Then a letter inviting him to Los Angeles to be on Wheel of Fortune solving word puzzles with Pat Sajak and Vanna White; I’m sure he never thought his degree and career in Criminal Justice would lead to this.

Anthony on set at Wheel of Fortune, solving puzzles is not just for police work

Being Big Buddy Buddies in and out of our Comfort Zone

Anthony and I met at a camping weekend for Comfort Zone Camp, a bereavement camp for kids who have lost a parent, guardian, or sibling. Started by someone who lost both her parents, Lynne Hughes turned her pain into purpose where her grief became a purpose for children grieving. We serve as big buddies for these weekend camps where kids from all walks of life who lost a parent or a sibling in heartbreaking ways, and yearn for someone to understand, listen, and relate, can be reassured that scars do heal and they can grow from it all. Many camps we have spent together with our little buddies during those transformational weekends, and there is a ‘why’ behind it all.

‘Those who have a why to live can bear with almost any how.’ (Victor Frankl)

For a Grandmother and two Uncles, how a Mother’s wish became a purpose

Anthony was raised in Williamsburg, Virginia with his parents Charles and Hope Jackson, and older sister Yolanda. He did not have a racial construct in mind while young, though he started noticing race for the first time in middle school. At Jamestown High School, the school being 75-80% white at the time, most of his friends were white or Asian and he felt welcomed and played in the school band, and would freely associate with anyone. He also played fife with the Colonial Williamsburg Fife & Drum Corps from 5th grade through high school. The organization was majority white, however he never felt excluded or different and was fully accepted. This is where most of his lifelong friends came from, and where a group of friends developed that have been in each other’s weddings, and they still travel together.

Off to the University of Virginia for college, though he became more aware of racism, his college friends just knew him as Anthony and he felt that he was never looked at differently.

As I learned more talking with Anthony, he shared why he serves others at Comfort Zone Camp, and perhaps in a broader way in Criminal Justice. It is for family that are treasured memories shared by his Mom, and the love for her and them.

With his parents, Charles and Hope Jackson

Anthony’s mom, Hope Jackson, was one of eight children and she lost her mother at the age of 12 due to a brain issue. Then on her 18th birthday, her little brother (Anthony, 13 years) died; he was undergoing a medical emergency and they called 911. Hope held her little brother until the ambulance arrived and then he went unconscious. She went with him to the hospital in the ambulance and he never regained consciousness, taking his last breath in her arms. Ten years later, when she was 28, she lost another brother, Troy. In a span of 16 years, a Mom and two brothers gone.

Unexplainable and unforeseen grief became fuel for Anthony’s ‘why’ to honor his uncles, Hope has told her son that Comfort Zone Camp would’ve been good for her and her brothers after the losses. She was the oldest of eight kids and the only girl; her youngest brother was just a year old when her mom died. She went to college a month after Anthony’s death and grieved on her own away from home. She took on a motherly role with her brothers and focused on that after their mom’s death, which a lot of kids do in similar situations. Anthony is named after his late Uncle Anthony.

With his sister Yolanda and wife Karen

Hope (and Charles), I just want to say you have raised an authentic difference maker of a son and he is paying it forward for you, his namesake Uncle Anthony and Uncle Troy, I am sure many of his little buddies at Camp over the years are grateful having crossed paths with him.

‘We build too many walls, and not enough bridges.’ (Isaac Newton)

Seeing the Blue before Black, and not anything else

Anthony has been in law enforcement almost 14 years, starting in March 2007 as a patrolman. He has been in an investigative unit more than half his career, split up over the years (2010-14, 2016-18 and 2020). He enjoys complex problem solving and serving his community, and received his Masters in Criminal Justice at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). I knew seeing through his eyes as a police officer, who is black as well, would help us all relate to each other better and have an appreciation and understanding for those that serve to protect.

It has happened to him, just being Anthony, driving in a neighborhood where it looked like he did not belong. He was stopped by a police officer and asked where was he going and why is he here. Because he is black. Anthony gets it, yet is so cool and calm, does not overreact. The issue is he should not have had to react at all.

As a patrolman he was assigned to predominately poor and minority areas, never affluent, and he found that they related well with him. Criminal Justice in his experience has more to do with economics than race, as it is more biased against the poor, which also tend to be minorities. That said, when one of his officer colleagues was told to come in a separate entrance at a home of a white citizen while doing some investigative work because he was black while the white officers could come through the front door is infuriating. They all stood up for each other and it was the front door or nothing.

If I were to have a #bleedasone hall of fame, that event is in it. Fist bumps to all of you.

Yet, as a police officer, Anthony’s experience is many tend to see the blue before the black.

‘I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him.’ (Booker T. Washington)

Handling unrest and the right to express

It’s complicated, yet understandable. People were outraged and what happened to George Floyd, and it travelled outside of Minneapolis. I spoke with Anthony on this subject, the strife and unrest coupled with being in law enforcement and being black.

Yes, Black Lives Matter however they should always matter and not just when talking about police brutality; he also noted that more black people die at the hands of other blacks. Anthony has also been told he should be ashamed of being a police officer, and rather than responding he calmly and confidently knows that we are all better served by having a diverse police force with people of high character.

Every law enforcement officer he knows, including himself, is upset. It was inexcusable what police officers did to George Floyd, including those who stood by and should have stepped in. When it comes down to it, we all should know what’s right and wrong and therefore have a duty to stop others from doing wrong.

What he has experienced in the wake of it all is other destructive reasons riding in on a trojan horse in the name of George Floyd. COVID aided in fueling the unrest however expressing anger in destructive way takes away from voicing anger in a controlled and productive manner.

Angry? Every right to be. Raw Emotions? Definitely. The question is how we can best express it all and where do we go from here; it has to involve constructive conversations that involve listening with intent to learn and respect, not just hear and dismiss.

In my mind the best and most recent example of how anger can be productively funneled and effective is when Jon Stewart went before the U.S. Congress to take issue on the lack of benefits for 9/11 first responders.

Behind the Badge and Being Himself

Anthony does go off -duty, and that is what many who see him with a badge don’t see. He is a husband, son, brother, volunteer, friend to many, saxophone player, marathon runner, and of course big buddy. He is more than the uniform, and what meets the eye. Too often we are all guilty of putting people in boxes and categorizing them, as that is easier than the relational work required in getting to know them.

He has gone on dates with white females and never been an issue; his first wife of 8 years was white. While her older sister was surprised when she first met him, her family (including her older sister) welcomed him with open arms; he was treated like a son/brother and were great towards him.

Anthony recently remarried this year and what a story, he and his wife Karen met in police academy in March 2007, just under fourteen (14) years ago. They were friends and though life took them down different roads, they came full circle and are together. They are a biracial couple yet love and friendship bleed as one also, Karen’s parents accepted him from day one.

Anthony and his wife Karen, note to self: find out where this is

There have been times when others tried to make them uncomfortable, and they handled it with grace.

A simple pleasure such as a meal out should be just that, without the side of a racial drama. They were spending some welcome time together at a local restaurant when a nearby table of eight started talking about someone being black (not Anthony) and everyone in the group did not realize that a black person (Anthony) was sitting nearby and within earshot. The wait staff came over to check on Anthony and Karen several times to make sure they were alright. The restaurant manager came to them and apologized as they were being subjected to others insecurities and racial tension.

As someone who has black family members that I love unconditionally, and being married to the love of my life who is part Cherokee Indian, this is both sad and infuriating to hear.

I’ll never do that, to just did, to something we all can do

It started when he was at the Police Academy, let’s see if I can run 3 miles in 30 minutes. When I asked Anthony about his marathon in 2019, knew it had a first chapter to the story. From 3 milers, to Monument Avenue 10Ks to Half Marathons, all getting stronger and faster with each. His first half marathon in 2012 and was over 2 hours (2:19:37), and then in 2015 he finished under 2 hours (1:57:07). Anthony always felt the marathon distance was asking too much, the training and how it is simply life consuming.

After getting separated in 2018, he decided that 2019 would be the year he could focus. He was running PRs in 5Ks and 10Ks and trained hard with Race Team RVA; Richmond would be the place for his first marathon. The summer months paid off and he crossed the finish line just over 4 hours. Got you 26.2, and he is good, no need for a marathon encore.

Mission 26.2 complete

As for something we all can do, how about being open and conversing with others unlike ourselves. Have those constructive yet uncomfortable conversations with an intent to listen to learn and respect, and it’s alright not to agree. We have more in common than we realize and in many cases give a chance to realize.

We can all use an Anthony in our life, one who protects others by serving others, and knows his why no matter the how. I know he has a heart for the brokenhearted and encouraging them serving alongside him at Comfort Zone Camp.

Thank you Anthony for reminding us that we can all make a difference with our differences, because we all #bleedasone.