It’s our shared responsibility to keep the momentum going year-round from Black History Month and International Women’s Day. One way we can all actively continue to build community and change is by encouraging and fostering mentorships.
How should your company celebrate Black History Month or different cultures? They can start by acknowledging cultures by having speakers and activations on campus beyond the designated months of recognition. If the top leaders within your company are not diverse, it’ll most likely be hard for your company to hire people of color just because the applicants don’t see anyone who looks like them in upper management positions. Most likely making any true connections with consumers nearly impossible for companies looking to execute diversity and inclusion campaigns.
When a diverse team of decision makers come together, it can allow a company to resonate with the right audience in a truly authentic way. I asked NSC’s Executive Director Todd Johnson if he could put me in touch with the few board members of color who make up the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission (MASC) and the National Sports Center Foundation board.
Seeing successful people of color doing good things in my community encourages me to work harder and set an example for others.
Being inclusive plays an important role in almost every diversity campaign. Black, White, Asian, LGBTQ+, all the above.
Frank Jackson is a former defensive back for the Minnesota Golden Gopher football team and is a member of the NSC Board. Recruited by the famous Lou Holtz, Jackson came from Detroit DePorres High School to play defensive back for the maroon and gold, capturing 10 interceptions. Frank works at the DOC and is a valued member of the “St. Small” community where he’s raised three great athletes who grew up together with Johnson’s children. Raised in Detroit, Jackson clung on to athletics to hurdle himself out of the working class neighborhood of the Motor City. The “blocks” was where Frank and kids from the neighborhood spent their time playing baseball and football, using the curbs as the out of bounds lines.
Jackson sat across the table from me to discuss what it’s like to be a successful leader in the community, his transition from football player to father and advice for any company looking to make a difference in their company culture.
Experience transitioning from Detroit to Minnesota…
“Growing up in Detroit, I didn’t hear the n-word. I can honestly say I can’t remember ever being called the n-word. Because where I grew up, everybody was black. Until I got here(Minnesota). I hung out with guys that looked like me or had the same experience as me. Guys from Chicago, Miami or wherever. We all hung out. When I visited here Rickey Foggie was my host, and he took me straight over to North Minneapolis. That’s where we hung out. We were at house parties with people who all looked like me.”
“When school started, I was like whoa! There wasn’t a lot of black people who went to Minnesota at that point,” Jackson said. “There were guys on that team that had that ideology. They would never say anything, we just knew.”
Advice to his son who dealt with racial comments in athletics…
“I told him from day one, dude you’re gonna hear the n-word all day long. When the kids are little they don’t know. But once he played peewees or bantams, when they start to rub, is when it started,” Jackson said. “He was pretty good and got kicked out of a few games because of it. It got to the point where as soon as he heard that, it would just trigger him. He would go nuts. I told him that they’re doing that for a reason, they’re trying to get you out the game. You’re gonna react, but you gotta react legally. It got to the point where they didn’t want to say that to him. That was his way of responding to it after a while before he got older and figured it out. That was just part of the deal. Minnesota nice, not necessarily so nice all the time.”
On black mentorship…
“That’s all I had. All my role models were coaches. I still talk to my 10-U baseball coach. Everybody I looked up to were all black, I always wanted to be like them,” Jackson said. “They looked out for us, they cared for us. I’ve been coaching for 24-25 years, and I know it means a lot.”
On what companies can do to continue their acknowledgment of diversity…
“It doesn’t have to be specifically based in February, and having a committee helps. At the DOC, it’s to address things that come up. Its not just about having black and white, its Native Americans, Hmong and Somalians. Especially with soccer, it’s important to reach Hispanics. I think that’s something you guys can touch on as far as speakers and how other communities look at soccer. It’s just not a month. It’s a year-wide effort.”
On using athletics and education to better himself…
“I wouldn’t have got the education if I didn’t have athletics, though. So, I used the athletics to get an education,” Jackson said. “If I didn’t get an athletic scholarship I would have been in the army or something. I would have been at the Ford motor plant or on the streets. I don’t know. Where I grew up it was dog eat dog. Sports took me away from the stuff I would have naturally gotten into. It was vehicle for me.”
Advice for people of color in decision-making positions…
“Do you. Part of doing you is speaking up for yourself. Say what you mean. It doesn’t have to be disrespectful, but you have to stick up for yourself. That doesn’t mean you have to be angry about it, but if you have something to say, don’t beat around the bush. Don’t be passive aggressive about it. Set an example for people who are currently in the shoes you were once in. People can be curious, just like you seeing me at a board meeting and wondering ‘hey, what’s his story?’” Jackson said.
An inclusive work environment doesn’t just focus on Black History Month. Inclusivity comes from an entire company that fosters all forms of diversity. The National Sports Center’s Play 4 All campaign, introduced this January, will continue its efforts in making the company more diverse and inclusive, internally and externally.