Inspired by a poll over at This or That, I hereby recount the story of how Jesse Jackson saved my life:
In 1987, my parents, my sister, my aunt, my cousin and I all piled into our station wagon and left Olympia, Washington, for a journey around the United States.
At that point, I had been to California twice, northern Idaho many times, and just over the border into BC. This time, we were actually traveling to a different time zone.
A couple of weeks (and many memories) later, we pulled into New Jersey for a two-night stay. The next morning, my dad and I boarded a Greyhound bus for New York City while the rest of the family stayed at the hotel for a day of swimming. We spent the day doing touristy stuff — going to the Statue of Liberty, looking out from the roof of the World Trade Center, visiting Times Square, etc.
At this last stop I bought a couple of cassette tapes from a guy selling them on the street (BellBivDevoe for $2? He must be insane!) and at another table I bought a Jesse Jackson campaign pin to put on my denim jacket next to my INXS, Depeche Mode and Max Headroom pins.
Waiting at the crowded station for our bus back to Jersey, I noticed two African-American men nearby who had started to argue. It wasn’t anything violent, just a disagreement between friends, but to a 13-year-old visiting the Big City for the first time, it was pushing in on my comfort zone.
As I watched, the friendly disagreement got a little less friendly, and became physical as one of the men shoved the other, who promptly shoved him back.
I was a fairly quiet kid, and I never got into a fight the entire time I was in school, so physical confrontations are something I’m not real familiar with. I’m sure I froze and my eyes were probably huge as he turned around and grabbed both lapels of my jacket, like he was going to throw me up against the wall or under a bus.
“Hey, what are you–” he started, and at this moment, I knew I was going to die, and I was OK with it — I had accepted Jesus, kissed a girl, and now I had seen Times Square.
But then the magic of Jesse fell upon us as he noticed the pin on my jacket and stopped in mid-sentence.
The man touched the pin with one hand as he brushed off my jacket with the other and said, “Hey, you alright, man,” then louder to his friend, “Hey, man, he’s alright! He’s votin’ for the brother! You alright, man!”
And they walked off, repeating, “He’s votin’ for the brother. He’s alright.”
It was over as quickly as it had started.
I’ve heard stories about people having a “God-shaped hole” in their heart, but that day I discovered that I’d had a “Jesse Jackson-shaped hole” in my heart and never knew it. Now there is a special place in my heart for Jesse Jackson. He saved my life.