The Wrong Kind of Daddy | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The Wrong Kind of Daddy

Mayor Frank Melton is at it again—making big promises to kids who need help, while setting a very poor example for them.

All the hoopla of late over Melton's eleventh-hour pledge to help young people is infuriating. It seems clear to me that the way he is going about it is a ploy to get positive attention at a time when his popularity is at an all-time low.

It is also apparent that, while he certainly has an affinity for young people and wants to help them on some level or another, he is just as apt to hurt them by making promises no one can afford to keep, and by showing them a picture of unprofessionalism at a time when they need mentors who can show them how to lift themselves up.

I don't like the Nobody-Can-Save-Them-But-Frank routine. When I was doing my infamous series of interviews with the mayor in 2006, it was very apparent to me that he had an obsessive paternalism toward young people that feeds his own ego. He puts down other organizations that try to help young men, like 100 Black Men, because they're not him doing it. His message: It's Frank's way, or it's useless.

Meantime, the best mentors—100 Black Men or others—give young people a picture of what success and integrity look like. They do not lie, as the mayor has openly and proudly. (Now, where is that taped confession he promised from the Memorial Day murder suspect?) They do not wait until the last minute and throw all budgetary concerns out the window. They don't pledge to raise taxes one day and then to lower them the next as Melton has done. They don't just say things people want to hear. They don't defy the law and the U.S. Constitution to target the homes of mentally disabled Jacksonians. They don't enlist minors to help them do the same. They don't pit youth from one neighborhood against those from another.

I'll never forget the call we got early in his administration from Melton who was furious about a "Jacksonian" profile we had done about Will Jemison, a young business-suited professional in the Melton administration who had worked with the campaign and was then helping with the city's youth initiatives. It took me a minute to figure out what Melton was raving about, but it finally became clear. He was mad about the attention the young man was getting for helping young people.

"He hasn't sent kids to college!" he yelled. Jemison was not with the administration for much longer after that.

From that day forward, I doubted the mayor's sincerity with youth initiatives. I've stood next to him in City Hall and listened to him talk down to a middle-school-aged kid ("pull your britches up and give your earrings to your sister!"), even as he kept glancing sideways at me, I assume, to see if I was standing there and listening. He did the same thing on my ride-alongs in the Mobile Command Center. He was bent on finding young men to show off with; he'd usually start by asking if they had smoked pot or "done narcoticsԗoften the answer was yes—then start joking with them and perhaps offer them a job if they came by City Hall the next day.

But he always kept glancing sideways to where the photographer and I were. Melton is nothing if not fond of cameras.

Likewise, I didn't like what I saw in his home—although I knew he brought me there to show off his youth-saving household. Yes, there were several seemingly well-adjusted and impressive young men, but the first time I was there, Christopher Walker was living there, supposedly being protected so he could testify about Albert "Batman" Donelson. His presence—barely 20, his rap sheet long, including a double murder charge that was dropped because witnesses wouldn't testify—seemed to make many of the others uncomfortable, and there was an under-current of tension that seemed to have roots other than the fact that a reporter was in the house.

People were everywhere, with no one seeming to monitor where anyone went, including into Melton's bedroom where his guns hung on a coat rack. In addition, Melton smelled strongly of hard liquor, which I guessed was why he fumbled while fastening his gun holster on. In addition, all the certifiable adults there were headed out on a nighttime "raid," which he claimed then to do every night. I couldn't help but wonder what the influences were for the young men in the house once the caravan left for the evening.

Hell, maybe it was calmer, I thought. Maybe they were better off alone.

Clearly, I was not sold on Melton's methods of "helping" young people. I was not a fan of how he talked about adult like they were children, which seemed to me to emasculate them in some way. And when I learned the same week that Walker could not testify due to all the goodies (money, car, credit card, apartment) that Melton had given him, in addition to allowing him to handle weapons while on probation, according to an MBN agent, I just rolled my eyes in frustration at the mess that Melton seemed to make all around him, not to mention in the lives of many of the young men he claimed to "father."

Now, here we are again.

Melton is telling 900 young people that he is the only one who cares about them because City Council cannot legally or in good conscience use disaster-relief funds to pay them to work for private businesses, or to put the city deeper into the debt hole Melton has dug with irresponsible fiscal habits and his lack of planning ability or willingness.

This is patently unfair to the young people of Jackson and their families. It is pushing a victim mentality that can help hold them back even more than their current circumstances. Yes, they need help, they need mentors, they need assistance, they need training. They need a realistic and responsible plan that helps them prepare to push through their comfort zones and strive for high standards in life and in the workplace. They need honest and reliable people helping them.

They do not need the kind of daddy who talks big and then can't deliver, or disappears when the going gets tough. Too many of them have that already.

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