Like many people who grew up in mega-city ghettoes, I have a very small circle of friends. As my oldest friend Kerry Norwood says, â€œChoosing a bad friend in our neighborhood could get you killed.â€ Very true. Thankfully, I met a good friend in 1992 when I moved to Lexington from Atlanta â€” Keith Jackson (who I lovingly call â€œJackâ€), a kindred spirit who was also reared in hard-scrabble housing projects.
Jack is a few years older than me and has always been somewhat of a big brother. When I was in my wild 20s, he always served as a rock â€” keeping me out of fistfights (or helping when they couldnâ€™t be avoided); helping me through family and relationship problems; educating me on deeper meanings of brotherhood in our fraternity; sitting there smiling as I defended my dissertation; or just letting me shed a few tears in the safety of his presence.
Heâ€™s taught me so much. From him Iâ€™ve learned more about balance, self-control, manhood, selflessness and unconditional love than I have from any other individual. Some years ago on one of our jaunts to Vegas, Jack even taught me to play blackjack, which quickly became my favorite game of chance (come to think of it, given my penchant for aggressive, high-risk behavior, maybe teaching me blackjack wasnâ€™t such a good idea). Because of his prowess at the game, I gave him the nickname â€œBlack Jack.â€
People who know me are shocked when they see us interact. Somewhere along the line I developed the reputation of being a rather hard-nosed fellow who is willing to follow very few people. For the life of me, I canâ€™t imagine where that perception comes from. Either way, I often defer to Jack. With him, I can relax. He is one of only a few people in the world who doesnâ€™t want anything from me. Most people only care about you as long as you can fill some void in their world and make their lives a little easier. Jackâ€™s different. When he calls, the conversation almost always starts off the same way, â€œWhatâ€™s up, Jones? Just calling to check on you â€” making sure youâ€™re all right.â€
When I recently found out my grandmother (who raised me) has a rare form of cancer, Black Jackâ€™s phone number was one of the first I dialed. He calmly said to me, â€œGo ahead â€” let that pain out, Jones.â€ He then sat quietly while I cried longer than I can remember. He then comforted, â€œItâ€™s gonâ€™ be all right, bro â€” you ainâ€™t alone in this.â€ As he always does, he made me get the emotion out, calmed me down and checked on me the next day. It must be old hat for him by now â€” looking out for his wayward, crazy little brother. Jack is used to being the first one I reach out to when Iâ€™m in trouble. Heâ€™s taken care of me for almost a decade and a half.
Of course, taking care of people is what good old Black Jack does. He doesnâ€™t just look out for his wife, two young daughters and troublesome friends like me. Many people donâ€™t know this side of him, but heâ€™s also one of only a handful of black officers in Lexingtonâ€™s Fire Department, a trained paramedic and a major in the U.S. Army Reserve. Unlike most of us, he literally spends his life saving lives. He never brags about it. In fact, he downplays the importance of what he does. Itâ€™s OK that heâ€™s so quiet though, because his goodness is so damned loud.
In March, Black Jack has to leave me, his family and loved ones to go to Iraq on deployment. Heâ€™s being dropped in one of the countryâ€™s hotbeds, Mosul, for a solid year. Even though he doesnâ€™t agree with the war in Iraq, heâ€™s never complained about having to go. Always an avid reader, lately heâ€™s devoured even more books on leadership, war and politics. When we talked about his readings, the war and his preparation, he coolly said, â€œIâ€™m good now bro, but Iâ€™ve got to be better. I have to do everything and anything I can to keep my soldiers alive.â€ Selfless to a fault. Best man I know.
Iâ€™ve always been against this so-called War on Terror. Iâ€™m even more adamant in my opposition now that it threatens my friendâ€™s life. Goddamn this war and bless Black Jack.
Remember, until next time â€” have no fear, stay strong, stand on truth, do justice and do not leave the people in the hands of fools.
Dr. Ricky L. Jones is associate professor and chair of the Department of Pan-African Studies at U of L. His LEO
column appears in the last issue of each month.