Last Saturday Jonathan, Dr. Ahmed, Hailey, and our hosts Dr. Arain and Mr. Munir Akthar Chaudry visited Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition headquarters for an interview with him. We could hear the booming gospel music as we approached the beautiful church with white columns and gold embellishment. We entered the sanctuary which was filled with about a third to capacity. I noticed a loud, frustrated energy in the room and the lights, music, and beauty of the building made a half-hearted attempt to divert that attention into something positive.
In vibrant and impassioned booms, Jackson preached about the poor and invisible of America. He talked about how Jesus himself was born poor—“he was born in the slum.” He cited that those who were poor in spirit and those that were poor would inherit the kingdom of heaven. He also described the cycle of poverty and injustice in the black community. He asked women whose sons were in prison to stand up and out of a small audience a large number rose up in their seats.
Moved by this, our generous host Munir Chaudry offered to donate ten jobs from his cosmetics factory to the congregation. He described the work and pay, only barely above minimum wage, and then Jackson asked the audience to raise their hands if they were interested. Again, many hands went up in eager yet desperate response. I do not often visit places like this, but what struck me was the utter despair and hopelessness; there was no bright future although they put all of their effort into believing it, as if that would make it a reality.
Our interview with Mr. Jackson himself was enlightening on the African-American experience. His role models included his mother and father, and his good friend and mentor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When asked about the founding fathers, his favorite again was Dr. King. He said that only now was the country beginning to “mature.” “When I think about the values espoused by our country and the reality, I tremble for my country,” he quoted. Although Jefferson may have intended something else with this statement, Jackson interpreted it through the experience of the slaves and the theory of freedom belied by the reality of their bondage. He noted however that to have a black candidate for president of the United States meant that we had “matured as a nation.” America is a young country, and we are suffering the growing pains even today.