"Responsibility." That was Mayor Harvey Johnson's word for what we should all vow to take as the city moves into its next era.
It's an overloaded, hackneyed word often used by people in the process of abdicating their own responsibility to each other and the greater good. That is, people say others should take responsibility for themselves for problems that, in fact, we all should be uniting to solve.
We've all heard it. People who might have bought their kids' way out of trouble complaining that other less-affluent parents should "take responsibility" when their kids get in trouble. Others who whine about each of us taking "personal responsibility" for our own actions while supporting legislation to restrict what we can do in our personal relationships and in the privacy of our own homes. Still others who blame individuals for bringing "irresponsible" lawsuits against corporations that the same people do not believe should be legally "responsible" for anything they do.
Sadly, when most Americans say "take responsibility," they are blaming someone else for something they don't want to help fix.
This needs to change.
It's a daunting, er, responsibility to try to change all of American society, but we can start right here at home in Jackson. In our city, we are in a prime place to be responsible to our community and to each other. After all, most people who hate the city (due to, sadly, changing demographics and its problems caused by poverty and neglect) have fled already.
And you know what I always say: I hope the screen door popped their butts on their way out, and now it's time for the rest of us to unite and build. People like that hold us back anyway. A strong city is built by people who care as much as about the city's needs as they do their own individual desires.
Sadly, Mayor Frank Melton's short, tragic tenure is the most dramatic example of what happens when people abdicate responsibility, not to mention good sense. Collectively, our city lost its grip with reality four years ago, believing the cowboy myths and absurd promises that Melton scattered around like a Johnny Appleseed on steroids.
The majority of people who bothered to vote believed his version of reality, and were fooled into thinking that Jackson just needed one man willing to kick and scream and cajole crime, and the bad guys, out of town.
We've paid the price in our city for trying to pile our responsibility on a little man with a big mouth, and Melton crumbled under the weight, may be rest in peace. Now, it's time to grow up and play our own role in solving our community's problems.
Harvey Johnson is no more our savior than Frank Melton, but at least he knows it, and knows he has to call on all of us to step up. (In sharp contrast to Melton, who bizarrely believed that if he couldn't do it, no one could, and shouldn't get credit for it if they did.)
Right now, four years to the day after the Jackson City Council donned those stupid white cowboy hats Melton's people gave out for the cameras, it is time for our city to mature. That means first acknowledging the problems we facefrom poverty, to a looming wastewater crisis, to lackadaisical attitudes about public information, to a bigotry of low expectations that permeates even progressive Jackson, lowering the standards of excellence and, thus, potential for our residents.
This means all of us need to play.
Look around. Throughout Jackson, we see abandoned buildings, kids in need of tutoring and after-school activities, local businesses that need support, positive stories that need to be told. We hear people talking down otherswhether so-called "thugs" or so-called "victims," who are assumed to beneath saving. We see crime story after crime story lead the evening news, and sensationalistic ads that push the idea that crime is the biggest story in Jackson every friggin' day. We see bloggers and hear radio talkers spread lies about people perceived to be political enemieswithout a phone call or an attempt to factcheck.
We see entire neighborhoods where it is uncommon for a person of the "other" race to show their face, regardless of how wealthy or crime-ridden the area really is. We hear people spreading rumors and lies about each other and our city without challenge. We don't live in, or even visit, all of Jackson, continuing the stereotypes of the past.
Most tragically, we buy the perception that we're helpless to change things, and go along with the idea that it takes a superhero to fix things. Then it becomes easy to do nothing, and wait for someone else to do for us.
Do something. It can be as simple as shopping at McDade's and supporting local grocers who aren't afraid of the inner city, bless their hearts, rather than sending our money to the corporate Wal-Mart headquarters. It can be as traditional as starting a neighborhood associationnot just a "watch," pleaseto celebrate the positive and ameliorate the negative on your block. It can be as difficult as standing up the Legislature and demanding payment in lieu of taxes to help fund services in the city that benefit people from the whole state.
Find a cause that matters to you and contribute in a way that takes advantage of your particular skills. For me, seven years ago, that cause was the need for locally owned media in Jackson that treats residents from the entire city as thinking, concerned people.
Five years ago, it was starting the JFP Chick Ball in a way that allows anybody in the city to help fight rampant domestic abuse here by giving just $5 or an hour of their time.
The Chick Ball is an example of how to make a difference by using what you have and getting others to help: We run ads in our own paper, we make flyers, we invite volunteers to help us, we ask local businesses and artists to donate to the silent auction. Each year, we've raised more money than the one beforelast year we bought the Center for Violence Prevention a new minivan!and we've convinced young people that they can change something significantly for the better.
Through it all, we've celebrated the positive while working to alleviate the negative. It is not a responsibility any of us have to claim, but it sure makes life more wonderful to share our talents with those around us.
It is a new day, Jackson. Help share the responsibility for our city however you can.
Businesses and artists: Donate to the Chick Ball silent auction by July 15, and we will photograph your item for our July 22 Chick Ball local shopping guide. Call 601.362.6121 ext. 16 or e-mail [e-mail missing].
Donna I agree about the responsibility part........however, I think you and the JFP for all your criticism....are having Melton withdrawal. I think you all are bored now that there is no Melton story, so you have to insert Frank whereever you can.
Oh, Powerman, how I wish that were true! You wouldn't believe the stories in this city and state that need our attention, and can get a bit more of it now that Melton has stopped creating so much drama. Keep an eye out.
And we are blessed (and cursed, perhaps) that people throughout Mississippi are calling us every day with stories that need investigating that the standard media haven't bothered to cover.\
As for Mr. Melton, we have no intention of throwing that history down the memory hole, any more than we will stop talking about old civil rights history, or any other history. Good reporting is contextual reporting, not episodic. That means that we constantly strive to place our coverage in a larger context. In the case of Mr. Melton, the big take-away lesson for the city, or one of them, is to not look for a superhero (and overlook his obvious) problems; we must take responsibility ourselves. If we do not often re-examine that lesson, our community will again settle back into the state of waiting for someone else to solve our problems for us.
Put another way, mothballing our coverage of Mr. Melton at this point would indicate that it was done only for sensational reasons, and it simply was not. We're always looking toward the big picture.
Great article..I love it when you borrow from my rants, even though you have deleted most of then...don't worry. I kept copies of the screens before you changed your software last time.
Love your new e-mail updates and alerts (City Council Meeting).
JFP keeps getting better and better.
I guess JFP has found a profitable business model... community news and service worth paying for.
Good reporting is contextual reporting, not episodic.
Powerman, I agree with Ms. Ladd. In the context of this article she makes a good point about how we, as citizens of Jackson, bought the image Frank Melton was selling.
In my case, I simply didn't bother to look any closer at what he was saying. I thought here's a guy who I've seen as the CEO of WLBT, doing his bottom line commentaries and someone who the Governor had appointed to head the MBN. So, it never really occurred to me he would be the kind of person to illegally tear down houses himself with a gang of kids using sledgehammers. I assumed that the whole cowboy thing was metaphor for getting things done in a common sense type of way. I didn't realize he believed his own hype that he was the Lone Ranger. That was an abdication of my responsibility to educate myself about the kind of person he really was, about what he really was doing. I won't let that happen again. I am sure I won't always be right, but I won't be wrong again because I hadn't bothered to look deeper. In that context, I think Ms. Ladd's comments about Frank are spot on.
I think you're kidding, Casual. (?) I didn't borrow anything directly from you, or anyone, other than the inspiration all of our discussions here provide me. I think that's what you mean.
Otherwise, thanks for the compliments. The business model of doing real reporting does seem to be working. ;-) Our revenue is steadily growing.
And thanks for your comments, WMartin. I've said it many times: The media had the primary responsibility to give y'all the information you needed to make good decisions. I've heard two Ledger editors say in open forums that "people didn't want to hear it" about Melton. And you wonder why they've lost all credibility?
WMartin I understand what you are saying; however, I would like to say I was one of the few people who saw that Frank was a vigilante type before he formally entered politics. If you followed his commentary on the bottom line his actions should not have come as a surprise. That being said I don' think the downfall of his administration was a lack of responsibility. I think he wasted a golden opportunity that most politicians will never have. He had a blank check to go out there and put Jackson on the map in a business sense. He was so enamored with crime he failed to make any meaningful progress. Jackson needs a charismatic leader who can run the government sector; but, yet convince the private sector to invest (not easy) I hope Mr. Johnson is up to the task. As for my comment about the JFP if you look at the issues that received the most feedback they generally involved Frank in some form of fashion. Love him or hate him he was great press and to some extent he still is even after death.
Oh, Powerman, I don't disagree with you. I've watched videos of Melton on The Bottom Line, including from back in the day, and it's remarkable that people took the demagoguery seriously (but our state has a history of doing that). I also have written transcripts of many of them, which really show how absurd they are.
And I don't deny that big Melton issues were among our most coveted, along with the big issues investigating old cold civil right cases, and such. ("Hard" covers move better here than "soft" ones, which says something about what Jackson wants out of its media.) He was "great press," although that's not why we did it.
My response to you was about your actual statement—"I think you all are bored now that there is no Melton story, so you have to insert Frank whereever you can."—which is off the mark for reasons I already gave.
Throughout our coverage of Melton, I had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, he helped bring our paper to an entire new membership and showed that we don't pull punches due to someone's political party, race or popularity in the business community. That gained us respect and loyalty from readers.
However, Melton's antics were often so distracting that they took us away from other stories that needed to be done. And for the first couple years of covering him, if we didn't do the real story on Melton, no one would dare criticize him. That started to change, and gave us some breathing room.
In other words, Melton was a huge burden to bear for us, but we knew it was our responsibility to fill the gap and tell the truth about him, and let the chips fall where they may.
Now, we can give more attention to other areas, and we have a second reporter. Though most of the Melton saga, we had one reporter.
So, no, we will never mention him just to be sensationalistic or to get attention. We will discuss him to prove contextual reporting that the city needs. We never, ever, never shy away from history, like the rest of the media around here tend to do. And we don't sugarcoat it.
It is also funny to recall now that there were people in Jackson (including Melton) who were convinced that our coverage of him would hurt our readership and our advertising base. So it's revisionist now for anyone to look back and say we did it because it would help the JFP; in fact, we did it despite the fact that it could hurt our advertising base.
But, happily, Todd's adage about our business proved true: "Do the right thing and wait."
Whoa Donna......I didn't mean to imply that you all had "National Enquire" type motives for covering Melton. I was being facetious with my remark on you all's boredom. I think that you all are putting high quality work and I respect that. I think Frank was great press, a lot of people I know read your publication, as well as the Ledger, and the Advocate to follow Frank (whether friend or foe) Whatever burden he carried for the professional journalist, he was watercooler conversation throughout his tenure for the Jacksonian. I have observed that most of you all articles may receive anywhere from 5 to 15 posts; however, the Melton issues sometimes got up to the 100 mark. People had strong feelings about the issues he had one way or another.