Two or three times a week, I put my body through the ringer. For thirty minutes, I do exercises that a man approaching forty probably shouldn’t attempt. I throw my body to the ground and spring up as quickly as I can. I push a weighted plate across the floor. I crawl like a bear up and down mats made of rubber. After all that is finished, I put on boxing gloves and hit a heavy bag that sometimes feels as if it’s made of concrete. When I kick it, my foot and shin turn red and bruise. My shoulders and arms feel as if they’re weighted by stones. I have to pause multiple times to catch my breath before I displace my rage on those bags once more.
At first, I did it because I’m vain. Anyone who knows me can attest to that. It’s less of an opinion and more of a fact. I’m okay with that. Self-awareness can be a good thing. After awhile, though, I realized something more important than this workout’s effect on my vanity. I noticed how good I felt when it was over—not relieved, mind you, but good. A mix of endorphins and adrenaline flood my brain afterward because I push my body to the point of exhaustion. Even though the fight with these bags is not real, my body thinks it is. It responds the way it is biologically wired to respond. As humans have evolved over time, our bodies have learned that we need a little good after the bad to keep us going—something to keep pushing us forward when we feel exhausted. Our souls need that, too.
I think that’s exactly what happened on the night of May 7, 2019.
Since 1963, Jackson has had three mayors—three. That’s three men who have essentially been in charge of our city for over half a century. Whether or not they were good or bad at their job is a matter of opinion, but the idea that only three men have sat on the theoretical throne for fifty-six years should give us pause for concern. Can a city progress like that? Did these three men represent our community as a whole? That’s a difficult task when change is so rare in a seat of power. That’s why this past Election Night was so important for Jackson.
Election Night did not produce a new mayor, but it did produce a runoff between two candidates. Here’s why that matters: If Election Night had provided a clear-cut winner, it would be easy to say that this was one more election that was par for the course. An overwhelming majority of the city would have picked one man over the other candidates, and all the other voices would be washed away once again.
Instead, we will have a mayoral runoff on June 18, and I don’t think anything could be better for Jackson.
For far too long, our city has not recognized the voices of some of its citizens. Over the last few years, however, there have been advocates for the unheard. There have been people who have demanded change for their neighborhoods. There has been a concerted effort to reconcile things that have been broken for generations. Our community now seems to care less about consolidated power and more about inclusivity of all people. There are hard conversations that we’re forced to have as we look at what we want Jackson to be. Election Night was the fruition of that struggle.
The election runoff will be between Scott Conger and Dr. Jerry Woods. If Conger wins, he will become one of the youngest mayors Jackson has ever elected. If Woods wins, he will be Jackson’s first African-American mayor. Let’s pause and process how important each of these scenarios are. This is the first time in forty-eight years that there will be a runoff for Jackson’s mayor. Regardless of the outcome of that election on June 18, Jackson will have a mayor like we’ve never had in our city’s history.
While some candidates have been quick to identify with political parties, Woods and Conger each circumvented the traditional politicians in this mayoral race and rallied their bases to respond accordingly. That’s not to say that party affiliation is unimportant, but it’s clear that our community cared less about affiliation and more about what they want for the future of Jackson. This is a prime example of our citizens’ collective voices drowning out the accepted mores of partisan politics.
The news in Jackson over the last few months hasn’t always been good, though. Mounting debt for the city is something Conger or Woods will have to face on the first day in office. The chaos of the school board and resignation of Dr. Eric Jones have been a punch in the gut to the entire community. At times, it feels like we’re taking one step forward and two steps back. We keep fighting, though. We keep shouting. We keep trying to exorcise these generational demons that haunt us.
We keep fighting because we know that after all this struggle and all this conflict, that one day there will be some type of change. I think we got it on May 7. Our city broke through collectively. We felt that endorphin rush because we are beginning to make out a Jackson where everyone’s voices are heard. We have two quality candidates running against each other on June 18. More importantly, we have two individuals full of integrity who will run clean campaigns and will want nothing more than to help guide our city to a place it has never been—a place that is better than what we are now. This is our story. We are starting write it together—not just a few of us, but all of us.
Gabe Hart is an English and Language Arts teacher at Northeast Middle School. He was born and raised in Jackson, graduating from Jackson Central-Merry in 1997 and Union University in 2001. Gabe enjoys spending time and traveling with his daughter, Jordan, who is eight years old. His hobbies include reading, writing, and playing sports . . . even though he’s getting too old for the last one. Gabe lives in Midtown Jackson and has a desire to see all of Jackson grow together.