Spare Change News: Tell me about your childhood.
Councilman Tito Jackson: Unlike my older siblings, I like to remind them that I was actually chosen. I was adopted when I was two months old. I stayed in the hospital for about two months and I’m thankful so much for Herbert and Rosa Jackson, they’re my parents, they selected me. In addition to three others, so I was adopted. and again I remind my older siblings that I was chosen and my younger siblings that they would not be here had it not been for the great experience they had with me. And so I grew up in a tough neighborhood. I can remember when I was probably about four or five and going to the door with my brother and someone had been shot and to grab a phone and call an ambulance. That’s one of my earliest memories. But, I grew up in a loving household, my dad was always there. He’s almost greater than mythical figuring in our community. He’s been gone and passed away ten years ago, but I still have people ask me about my dad.
SCN: Tell me about your dad.
TJ: My father Herbert Jackson and then went to the Million Man March and came back. He called himself Kwaku-Zulu—warrior born on Wednesday. He was the epitome of an organizer. He worked tirelessly to make sure women, people of color, Boston residents got onto job sites. Just an amazing thing that he did everyday as sweat equity – working with people who needed jobs and connecting them to the jobs that they needed. He did it everyday. I miss him so much.
SCN: Okay, now tell me about your mom.
TJ: My mom is a, her name is Rosa Jackson, She lives in Jacksonville, Florida now. She has only been there about a year. She is the biggest and baddest 4’11 woman you’ll ever meet in your life. She is my definition of love. My mom is from Greensboro, North Carolina. She was a rebel. She came up here to go to school right out of high school. And she built a family for herself and always made sure there was a roof over our head regardless of how difficult the times were. She had a daycare for twenty-five years and ended up really having a huge impact on her neighborhood and her community. She literally raised a village of about five hundred or six hundred folks.
SCN: Alright, so what high school did you go to?
TJ: I went to Brookline high school. I was in the MECCA program, it’s a busing program…
SCN: What’s MECCA?
TJ: It stands for the Metropolitan Counsel for Educational Opportunities. Formed in the late 60’s. I went to Brookline, which is right next to the city of Boston. I went there from 1st grade to 12th grade.
SCN: What’d you do in high school?
TJ: I did everything in high school! I started out, so my parents were so strict. We grew up in a time, 1990-1991. There were 150 murders inside the city of Boston. And so it was dangerous, so my parents didn’t let us go outside unless we had something to do. So, I signed up for everything like absolutely everything. I was on the usher board, the NAACP.
SCN: What church did you go to?
TJ: I went to Union United Methodist. Reverend Charles Stiff and now Ambassador Charles Stiff. He was our pastor and I did everything. But, I started being an activist at that time. 1991 is when we had a tragic incident in the city of Boston. A white woman named Carol Stewart was shot an killed and her husband was shot and at that time it was an all out manhunt for black men in the city of Boston. At that time, as it’s going on in New York right now, it was stop and search. They were making us pull our pants down on corners throughout the city of Boston.
SCN: Did you have that experience?
TJ: I had that experience four to five times. The only thing it helped me with was I did put lotion on my knees. It was demeaning, it was dehumanizing and we stood up. I was president of NAACP youth council we did skits across the city of Boston and we began to organize young people to fight against that tactic.
SCN: Now what was the outcome of that case?
The outcome of the case was that the husband killed his wife and so there was a huge divide in the city of Boston because black men had be victimized throughout the city of Boston and it turned out that the department of justice had to come in to step up for our communities to make sure we weren’t being victimized in that way. Interesting things happened at that point. One of my first experiences of going out of my neighborhood to another neighborhood like mine was the mayor at that time was Ray Flynn so he said we should send the kids from Mission Hill to Charlestown to play street hockey. And then we should send the Charlestown kids over to to play basketball in Roxbury. And so, they put us on a van and said “you’re going over to Charlestown to play street hockey.” And we said, “Well we have two questions, “Where is Charlestown and how do you play street hockey?” We got over there into the projects that looked much like the projects in the neighborhood that I grew up in. We saw folks drinking and carrying on in the same way and it changed me because it made me see that we all come from often times many of the same difficulties, the same challenges and we’re much more alike than we are apart in terms of our life and times and existence. So that was a kind of turning point for me
SCN: And so you benefited from it. Did you have any negative experiences that students had with buses?
TJ: Yeah, so fourth grade was the first time I was called the “N” word. Interesting about my self-awareness at that point the reason why I beat up the kid was not because I was offended it was because I was angry that one of my friends yelled at me. Interestingly I went to school in a community where kids talked to their parents and parents reached out. So another parent reached out to my parents to discuss what had happened and we had a meeting about it. My parents at the beginning actually addressed the issue of race with me at that point. Interestingly, my mom growing up in a segregated area that she grew up in. She felt like she did not really want to put her prejudices upon me. But it was the beginning of my, kind of, of my racial awakening and self-awareness. So, it was somewhat difficult. I think the more difficult aspect of it was the day/night continuum relative to seeing opportunity and then also seeing what deprivation of opportunity looks like.
SCN: Boston has the reputation of being one of the most racist major cities in the north, one of the most segregated cities in the country. One, is that still true and two, what do you think you can do to help?
TJ: I think the city of Boston is to me one of the most amazing cities in the whole country. I think we were very late to the game to deal with segregation. Our desegregation actually started in 1974. Brother King had had passed April 4th 1968, and he had done all of his work and we were still in a segregated environment. I think we still have a long way to go. I think we have a long way to go relative to what we’re dealing with in terms of the school assignment and how we provide equitable and quality access to good schools for all of our young people. I think we have a long way to go relative to healthcare disparities in the city of Boston. Ironically, black women get mammograms at a higher rate than white women do, but their mortality rates are actually higher. We have a long way to go there. We also have a long way to go with the disproportionate level of poverty, a disproportionate level of hunger that we have in the city of Boston. But, what it really comes down to with the city of Boston, I think, is a land of promise, and a land that we have an opportunity to actually move forward to get to where we need to get to.
SCN: You represent the district that you grew up in. How does it feel to be representing that community?
TJ: This is the most honored and humbling experience that i’ve ever had in my life. I go to work everyday and i’m in love with my job regardless of the difficulty we have. We actually are able to make a difference. There’s 30 kids who were in my office that were falling over each other because we only have a small office. Then we took in as interns to make sure that they actually got paid because many of the programs in the city require you to get a job and that’s how you get paid. I think one of the biggest things was the several people who come to me who we help get a job, most of the people that call our office are not asking for a handout, they’re actually asking for a hand up. The folks will tell you that did it all alone, and that’s really sad, that’s a sad. I feel sorry for you, if you had to only do it alone. Hopefully there was at least one person who helped you and many people actually helped me to do what i’m doing.
SCN: Tell me about your own sense of…Tell me this, Massachussettes was the last state to get an African American on its major leauge baseball team, one of the last cities to integrate its schools to respond to Brown v.s Education almost twenty years later. Most major cities in the country, and particularly in the north have had black mayors. So, is Boston ready for a black mayor?
TJ: I think Boston is definitely ready for a black mayor. I think the demographics show that we’re ready for a black mayor. I think the community knows that we are ready. I think that we are definitely ready for a black mayor in the city of Boston. We have some great crop of young leaders here in the city of Boston. What we’ve seen on the national level have shown us that it’s not about who’s turn it is and who’s been through whatever pecking order or whatever party, but it’s actually about that individual who can come in and do the job and most importantly that actually has a vision for that next generation of that city, state, or country. I definitely think that we are ready for a black mayor of the city of Boston.
SCN: What is your position on homelessness and Mayor Menino’s proposed ordinance banning aggressive panhandling?
TJ: The problem with homelessness is not that people are asking for money. The program is that they don’t have housing, or mental and physical support systems in place to deal with their issues. I want to get to the root of the problem, not stay on the periphery. Relative to the ordinance, I have concerns about the freedom of speech and also further burdening these people with the harshness of the criminal justice system.
SCN: Where’s the solutions to gun violence? What are the three things you could do? What policy recommendations do you have?
TJ: I do not wanna stand above the bed of any other thirteen year olds who have been shot. Gabriel Clark, who three weeks ago was shot because of the street that he lived on, This was a young man. He’s a real thirteen year old, he wears footsie pajamas, a really great young man. Because he was unaware of the answers to the questions that folks asked him on the street could be fatal, he was shot, We have to do something, we have to look at the violence in young black and latino kids getting killed with the same veracity as Sandy Hook and other places. That has to be in our belly. I would not only ask the people who are participating in the violence to put down their weapons, I would ask community organizations and violence prevention organizations to put down their weapons. Let’s come together and lets do this together. This is not a pop competition. What this is about is about saving our youth. So, what i’m calling for is a youth peace summit. Where we bring all of the organizations in and individuals who are doing this work. Ironically, people in community based organizations fight over resources, fight over turf, they’re doing much of what we’re asking our young people not to do. We also need to have real resources to hire people. We are not competing with the same level of financial competition as we did with the crack era. Many of these young folks, and if you look at the Matapan massacre, that was over marijuana, dollars gotten for marijana. We actually can financially compete if we get the right folks the proper training and we get them the right job. The folks who are building the Ferdinand building which is a beautiful space are making a couple of thousand dollars a week which is much more than who….(Laughs) So when it comes down to really what we have to do, we also have to value and invite and listen to young people. I know this sounds really radical, but I think i’m cool but im 37, not 17. When it comes down to it, there is a valid and important and authentic voice that comes from our youth and we need to actually empower them to be disrupters when it comes to this cycle of violence that we have.
SCN: Who are your political mentors and models?
I admire Martin Luther King, not the fake contrived often quoted by conservative Martin Luther King. I admire Martin Luther King who speaks about a bounced check. I admire Martin Luther King who wrote the book, “Why We Can’t Wait.” I admire Malcolm X. I admire Deval Patrick. I admire Barack Obama and I admire my dad based on the work he did in the community as well as my mom based on all that she went through to make sure that we were raised. Interestingly, I think the other side of this work that folks don’t speak about is what it does to your family. The absence that occurs in your home and also the financial difficulties that families have based on being a public server. My dad was never an elected official and to be honest when I was a kid we almost lost our house based on my dad trying to do this work. So, I just admire my parents and my mom and dad for holding on so that I could be here and do the things that i’m doing. I would say that i’m a subtotal of all of those folks who have come before me and I owe it to them to continue to do this work and stand this next generation on my shoulders and help them to see that they have an opportunity that we didn’t have.