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‘What About Me – Walking the Tightrope as a Black Man in America’

by Phyllis Dixon —

If you watch television, it’s easy to believe that Black men are only celebrities, athletes, criminals or victims of deadly police violence. In his book, “What About Me: Walking the Tightrope as a Black Man in America,” D. John Jackson challenges that perception. 

In a message suited for everyone – Black men and youth in particular – Jackson, a Northside High School graduate, asserts that despite roadblocks, you can succeed. You matter. Never give up!

A Fortune 50 corporate leader, lecturer, motivational speaker and philanthropist, Jackson, who often speaks to international audiences, shared his story of success and lessons learned during a book-signing in his hometown last Saturday (Sept. 25).

The setting was Cheryl Pesce – The Lifestyle Store in Laurelwood. His friend, actor H. William Bryant from the television show “Greenleaf,” led the discussion.

In addition to the book, Jackson is an executive producer of a documentary, also titled, “What About Me.” His goal is to showcase unknown stories and promote positive images of Black men and boys.

“It is extremely important for us to tell the stories and control our narratives of many rarely seen and untold stories of Black men and boys,” said Jackson. “Oftentimes in America, we see a narrative from our media of young Black males that is all too unflattering. Their hopes, dreams and aspirations have been muted…Until now.” 

Jackson didn’t start at the top and the book includes stories about his jobs as a dishwasher and fast-food cook. Some of the advice seems basic: respect others, think before you speak, maintain a positive attitude. 

However, that is not always easy when faced with a double standard, racial profiling and stereotypes. Recounting instances when he was disrespected, discriminated against or taken advantage of, Jackson writes about how to use those experiences as stepping stones to success. 

The title “What About Me” isn’t just about being misheard, misunderstood, and misjudged; it is also a challenge to the reader to pay it forward. What will you do to influence, mentor and help others, particularly the next generation? 

With degrees in engineering, Jackson speaks across the country to groups to encourage the study of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects. STEM careers consistently rank among the highest paying, with Black students traditionally underrepresented in their pursuit of them.

Knowing that a legacy isn’t just financial, Jackson urges each of us to be intentional in helping everyone feel valued, heard and appreciated. 

Incorporating the phrase “Walking a tightrope” into the title of his book, Jackson uses a perfect metaphor for the lives of Black people in this country. There is little margin for error, but if we all pitch in, we can help our young men successfully navigate that tightrope. 

In “What About Me – Walking the Tightrope as a Black Man in America,” Jackson describes what that tightrope feels like:

There are people anticipating my failure and looking for flaws or missteps,

…so I can’t make a mistake.

There are people with high expectations and expect me to be infallible,

,,, so I can’t make a mistake.

People are watching and depending on me,

,,, so I can’t make a mistake.

People are following in my footsteps,

,,, so I can’t make a mistake. 

(Excerpt from “What About Me – Walking the Tightrope as a Black Man in America,” by D. John Jackson.)

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