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Living the diversity model

Lt. Colonel Raphael Jackson seems the perfect choice to be the Eastern Territory’s first racial diversity and inclusion secretary, an appointment he began earlier this year.

“I live it,” Jackson says. “My half of the family is African American and Hispanic, and the other half of my family is Anglo. I’m not only the ‘diversity secretary,’ but I am a diverse secretary. We live a diversity model.


Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, ‘Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that fears him, and works righteousness, is accepted with him.’—Acts 10:34-35.


Jackson’s grandfather used to joke that the family was “Heinz 57” because of the variety of people. In fact, when Jackson investigated his family ancestry, he found he was 17 percent British, 1 percent Jewish, and even 0.9 percent Scandinavian. The largest chunk, 56 percent, could be traced back to Togo in Africa.

“It all shifts and gets merged into the Caribbean, probably during the slave trade, until my great-great-grandfather came up from Barbados,” Jackson said. “My family is diversity in action.”

Jackson’s wife, Lt. Colonel Sandra Jackson, the territory’s new program secretary, is white. The coupling didn’t go over well with everyone when the Jacksons married more than 40 years ago, but their love persevered.

“When we first started, folks said it’s not going to work and told us our children would suffer,” Jackson recalls. “Not everyone, but there were people who said all of this, but God’s love triumphs over all. If some folks were waiting to see our marriage fail, well we’ve been at it 40 years, and I don’t think she’s going to leave me and I’m sure not going to leave her.

“Our children are wonderful, wonderful human beings and I think that the main reason for that is because my wife and I are strongly committed to the fact that God brought us together.”

The couple’s son, Raphael II, is the IT director for the Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Philadelphia. Their daughter, Sharon, is the assistant director of community living at Kent State University in Ohio.

 

Four decades of ministry

The Lt. Colonels Raphael and Sandra, who were commissioned in 1980 and 1983 respectively, raised their children while serving most of their 40 years as officers in the urban areas of New Jersey and Greater New York, including a stint at the Harlem, N.Y., Temple Corps.

“But we also have a sensitivity for the suburban and rural areas,” Jackson says. “We were the divisional commanders of Northern New England. We were the divisional leaders in Western Pennsylvania, which in general has larger rural and suburban areas. I’ve sat in just about every chair. It’s not just the fact that I’m black and so they’re going to put me here, but I think that I also have a sensitivity to the issues.

“I believe I’m cognizant of the issues, but I’m also the kind of person who is always willing to learn. I feel that there are still things that I need to learn.”

Another aspect Jackson brings to the job is he knows the pain of racism all too well. The hurt is still visible, years later, as he described being pulled over by the police as he transported his son’s Little League team home from a practice. The policeman yelled at Jackson, who was an assistant coach for the team.

“He started cursing me out like crazy and asking, ‘What are you doing in this neighborhood? Why are you here?’ He was vulgar and nasty. I said, ‘I’m taking these kids home.’ Then he looked in the back seat and saw all these little mostly Anglo kids. He just says, ‘Be careful.’ Then he got in his car and rode away; no apology or anything like that.

“Throughout my life, I’ve had more incidences like that than I would want.”

However, Jackson has also had the joy of befriending people who admitted to him that they had never before been friends with a person of color. He has been able to share his journey and perspective.

“It’s good to see their metamorphosis and their change of perspective,” he said. “I’m not naive enough to think that it’s a complete 180, but it is a breaking down of the wall.”

While sad and upsetting, this summer’s racial unrest after the death of George Floyd presented such an opportunity, Jackson said.

“You look at the cops and you look at the other folks and you know it’s not just that incident,” he said. “There’s something in their history that has brought them to where they are right now. No, I don’t think anybody grows up wanting to put their knee into someone’s neck until they suffocate and die. I find that hard to believe. But something happens somewhere when they thought that it was all right. So, what can we do? I don’t know all the answers.”

 

It’s a big assignment

One solution Jackson offered for Salvationists is to love people the way Christ did. During a recent “Worship Together” service, Jackson preached on the Good Samaritan and focused beyond the context of being a neighbor. The Samaritan was someone from a different culture who was hated by the Jews.

“We can reach out and help those folks who may look or act different than us and realize that no one was won to Jesus Christ through hate,” he said. “Even if you completely disagree with the person, you’re not going to win them through hate. We win—everyone wins—through love, seeing those things which we have in common. We have many things in common. Sometimes we probably have more in common with the person of a different culture than we do sometimes to our own brothers and sisters.

“You are going to win them if you say, ‘I unconditionally love you’ and ask, ‘How can I help you?’ We need to reach across the borders, reach across the lines, reach across the differences, and love our neighbor.”

Jackson said Commissioner William A. Bamford III, the territorial commander, and Colonel Phillip Maxwell, the chief secretary, have given him “some leads and benchmarks” for his new appointment.

“There is a strong desire to focus on some of the missteps or the parts that may have been neglected in the past, so that we build an atmosphere of equality and inclusion,” Jackson said. “I’ve been encouraged to look at things relative to the use of our most cherished resource, which is our people. I’ll also look at education and our policies and ask, ‘Do they unintentionally exclude or what can we do to make them more inclusive?’”

Jackson said The Salvation Army has “been at the forefront of some of the most inclusive, some of the most affirming things” relative to gender and race, but he warned against “sitting on our laurels.”

“We, at one time, were without a doubt one of the key leaders relative to female equality, but there can be a social slip, and a place where we become static,” he said.

 

A seat at the table

Jackson equated it to the fable of the tortoise and the hare.

“We were plodding on as we were, but the rest of the world starts moving ahead of us,” he said. “The structure has worked well in the past or there was a perception that the structure worked well; so, why fix it? I think we are realizing that at times some of the things that we had put into motion, some of the things that we had done might have been good for the ‘right now,’ but haven’t served us well into the future, especially relative to how we approached the using of our people of color.”

Jackson’s new appointment also includes serving as the territory’s assistant chief secretary. He will help the chief secretary administratively as well as sit on boards, councils, and committees relative to diversity and inclusion.

“It’s really up to me, with help and direction from administration, to really set the pace relative to some of our initiatives regarding diversity and inclusion. We want to make sure that there’s a level of equality across the board,” he said.

“With me coming on at this point, I get to sit on committees and councils and boards where I am the only person of color. It is important for us as The Salvation Army to be as inclusive as possible, especially when many of the people who we deal with are disenfranchised and marginalized. The last thing we want to do is not have someone at the table who looks like them.”

Jackson said he knows some will want “crazy change” and “to completely turn the world upside down,” but that’s not always the answer.

“Sometimes the answer is moving toward equality,” Jackson says. “I know that there are some who will say you can’t get equality if you’ve been burdened for so many years and so many generations, but if we’re not prepared for equality, and if we’re continually pushing that on others, those kinds of changes are not going to last.

“Part of my job is to prepare my brothers and sisters on both sides of the fence to be ready to be equal partakers. It’s not going to be done before I retire in four or five years, but I need to get the process going.”

by Robert Mitchell