Commentary: What you can’t see in Jackson

By Christopher Young,

Contributing Writer,

What do you see when a city is your home? It’s quite a lengthy list. Grown-ups and children scurrying back and forth in the activity of their lives, neighbors, schools, growth, change, set-backs, celebration and sorrow.

You see so much here in Jackson. You notice when an old building is finally torn down, and when a new house is built, or when a new business sprouts up and when one closes its doors. You see when prices change at the pumps, grocery store, on your insurance premiums, and your water and light bill. You see if your neighbor is walking a little slow to the mailbox lately, or when a fire truck grinds on by, or the whooshing pass of a JPD patrol car – siren blaring. You watch and read the local news and get to see what those folks think you should see. You see so much when a city is your home. Every morsel of what you see has meaning because you care.

Our city, Jackson Mississippi, is a black city. Estimates vary between 150,000 and 170,000 residents. 84% black/African-American. The recent Census tells us 25% of the folks in our city live in poverty. You know what you don’t see in our black city though? You don’t see an abundance of thriving black businesses. You certainly don’t see many large black businesses – the kind that a man or woman, a mom or dad, can earn a living wage year after year to raise their children. The kind where health insurance and paid leave are the norm, rather than the exception. Small black businesses are everywhere, but not larger ones – businesses that would serve as a black economic engine in our black city; a source of pride and advancement. As a direct result of what you don’t see – we suffer.

Why is that? That’s not the way it is in Chicago, Detroit, Birmingham and Atlanta, just to name a few. But here in Jackson, black businesses and black contractors struggle over crumbs – in a black city. God bless the ones that can find a niche and excel. Year after year, the city government awards less than 5% of its contracts for goods and services to black businesses – and that is with a black mayor and a majority black city council. No one seems to lose any sleep over it. It’s the norm. 

Ask yourself the last time you heard a black elected official at the local level, or even the state level, demand a higher percentage of contracts? Our Governor, who always shows his true colors, promised voters that he would govern for all of Mississippi. Not true. There is always work going on at The Capitol and The Mansion that the Governor resides in – ever take notice of who those contractors are? Have people forgot who it was that built those buildings, as well as Jackson City Hall? Have we forgot who built Mississippi?

Even today, with all the talk about contracts to repair water and sewer infrastructure, distribution lines, and so forth – have you heard one member of our legislative delegation stepping to the microphones to demand that black businesses get a high percentage of those contracts? Sadly, we have not. They seem very capable. Yet they appear to lack the willingness to stand and fight for black businesses. Have they forgotten Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Vernon Dahmer and James Meredith?

Save our mayor, who else pushes back against the white supremacy that controls the conditions on the ground in Jackson? So many intelligent and experienced people making campaign promises to serve us, but our conditions do not change.

Medgar Evers was shot in the back by a white supremacist on June 12, 1963. He died soon after at a Jackson hospital. The shooting occurred just hours after President John F. Kennedy announced nationally that he would ask Congress to enact civil rights legislation. Earlier in June of 1963, at a speech as part of a direct-action campaign, Evers stated “We will be demonstrating here until freedom comes to Negros here in Jackson, Mississippi.”

Some sixty years later, just ask the simple question, what are the civil rights for the majority of the residents of Jackson, Mississippi? Should they include opportunity for safe affordable housing, quality public education, safe neighborhoods, the ability to earn a living wage, a level playing field to transact business? In an 85% black city, should rights include safe and reliable water?

If a city is your home and you don’t even demand safe and reliable water service, it’s easy to see how black businesses don’t expand and prosper in a black city. To the extent that this continues becomes the extent of our indifference.

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