Happy belated Easter! I’ve been busy this season getting things done-as those of us in the ministry world know, there is a lot to do during this time of year. If I’m being honest, I also lost momentum for awhile. AJ, as he is prone to doing, gave me a swift kick of accountability at the right time. Now that the season is over, I’m going to be returning to my regularly scheduled posts and the maintenance I do behind the scenes both to learn, grow and share with you the many tenets of leadership.
This interview will have multiple components, as Damone was kind enough to give me a lot of material! I’m excited to present to you, Damone Jackson!
Cris: My first question to you […], what does being a leader mean to you?
Damone: Being a leader is putting away what you want and your things, putting them aside, and putting other people: like your team, [the] youth, your family first. That’s what being a leader is: sacrificing everything you think you want-what think is cool, what you think is nice [and] putting it off to the side and asking what does the team need, what does the group need? That’s your number one priority.
Cris: So what titles have you held in the past, and [what titles do you hold] today?
Damone: Right now, I’m the founder of Architects of Hope-it’s a non-profit organization based out of Sacramento, California, established in 2013. The double acronym for Architects of Hope is Artists and Athletes organizing Higher education. Our view and our understanding (and belief) is that student athletes within at risk communities and neighborhoods: like your North Highlands’, like your Oak Park[‘s], your Del Paso Heights’, that those student athletes dictate the culture within school, especially the football and the basketball players. They tend to be the ones that, if they don’t play sophomore and junior year football and basketball, they’re turning themselves to the streets. They need to feel that sense of accomplishment, somewhere, which we all do. [If they don’t] They tend to turn to the street violence and gangs for that love and for that companionship. So, if we can change the direction and the mindset of these specific groups of athletes, we can then dictate the culture of the high school, and then the community, and push them into being social entrepreneurs. [We help] them to develop ideas and creative cool ways to help them push their brothers and sisters and the next generation of kids in the opposite direction of what’s going on [negatively, in their neighborhoods].
Damone: I am [also] the youth pastor for Liberty Towers Church. We just have open arms to any and everybody no matter what you look like, how you feel, how old you are, how much money you have, or you don’t have-we have open arms to everybody and we’re going to love you, we’re going to accept you and we’re going to help you to reach that next spiritual level […]
Cris: Excellent! My next question is: what motivates you?
Damone: My motivation comes from a couple of different things. I’d say my biggest motivation is my parents. My mother is from Del Paso Heights. She grew up in the 70s and 80s during a very difficult time in Sacramento. She was exposed to a lot of things-her brothers and sisters were caught up on substance abuse, and in and out of jail-different things like that. Even with all that being said, my parents, especially my mother had a focus on education. She pushed us in school and she really pushed that: “your environment doesn’t make you, you make your environment” concept. And from a child, I’ve always had that [as a part of] my mindset.
My grandmother has a tombstone in front of Grant Union High School celebrating the work that she did in the Del Paso Heights Community…
Damone: …sitting on boards, getting churches built, getting schools built-trying to push that community and that city to a level of respectability.
Some of you know that through the 80s with the crack epidemic that hit all the major urban areas so bad that Del Paso Heights was completely destroyed and is now a war torn neighborhood-they’re trying to rebuild it, but there are a lot of politics and things going on.
My father is from Southeast D.C. He’s from a single-parent household and always told us stories about his dad saying things like: “I’m going to pick you up. I’m going to pick you up,” and then his dad just never showed up or ever came. When we were children he would tell us about that, and [we empathized about how terrible that was for him.] Because of that, I understood from an early age that I have a responsibility for my family, for my peers, my siblings to make sure that my people are taken care of because my parents sacrificed tremendously.
Another motivation: as a young child, I was about in the third grade-they said that me and my twin brother were having issues with reading, so we were going to have to go to special classes to help us. I remember having anxiety in elementary school sometimes if I didn’t get something, or didn’t understand it. It used to really bother me. My parents had a meeting with the principal and my dad came in and said: “You guys aren’t doing your job. I’ll start working with them and teaching them.” From that point on, we were fine.
I went to West Campus High School-a college prepatory school and from there to Sac State [CSUS] and graduated with my B.A. I will eventually get my Master’s degree, so, I’m motivated by…
Cris: What was the degree in?
Damone: It was in Communication Studies with a concentration in Interpersonal Communication-that’s probably why I talk so much [laughter].
Cris: [laughter] And what’s the Master’s Degree going to be in?
Damone: Probably in Urban Curriculum Education Development-I want to write curriculum for youth that is relevant to the 21st century. I don’t like this old, stale stuff that’s being taught. Make it interesting and engaging to the youth. You’ll hear them say things like: “Oh yeah, that question about Drake, I remember that,” when they see him on T.V. So they’re combining their pop-culture with their education. They’re using those things to learn.
I feel that I have a responsibility to motivate students and youth and I believe that we’re going to come back to what we sew. If you don’t take care of the things you have, it’s going to die and go away. It’s never going to come back to you. You’ve got to work hard and take care of what’s in front of you now, so that, if not you, then the next generation can have something to build on to.
Cris: That leads nicely to my next question: what keeps you up at night? What are you concerned about as a leader?
Damone: Honestly, what keeps me up at night is ensuring that I have infrastructure set up for my organization so that, if some way, somehow, if I’m gone or removed, it will continue to go on and make a difference-like a well-oiled machine.
I often think about how easy it is to change our situations, especially with youth. The biggest problems are: robbery, crime, drugs, third-party homicide, infant mortality-there are very simple remedies for the things that are out here, it just takes reprogramming the parents and the youth to do things the right way, and not the wrong way. It’s not like it’s rocket science-like we need to get to the moon. It’s the simple things: reading to your kids, giving them a good night’s rest, things like that. I think the simple things can turn into really positive agents of change. The changes we need in our lives, and in our community, from the Capitol, all the way down to our worst area, are really simple. They’re so simple, sometimes I think they don’t want us to fix the situation.
Cris: If you had the opportunity to talk to yourself when you were younger-as you are right now-what would you say to yourself? What would you say to your friends?
Damone: If I had the opportunity to say something to myself at 13 or 14 years old, I would say to myself: “Don’t worry. Don’t stress out. You’re smart. You’re strong. You’re loved. You can do anything you put your mind to. And I’d probably say: “Hey, put some money into Facebook and Google.” [laughter]
Cris: [laughter] Yup! Awesome!
Damone: For my friends-I have two kind of separate groups of friends: one group of friends who I grew up with in my neighborhood, who got involved in gang-banging and the street-life really young and really early and now don’t live very promising or fulfilling lives. That group always has to look over their shoulder and is always wondering where they’re going to find their next job. So I tell them: “Just stay focused on school and let all of that stuff go. Just keep focusing on the sports and yourselves, and don’t be worried about the girls and the opposite sex in that young age.”
Cris: Hard not to think about that when you’re a teenager.
Cris: I guess in closing-my final question would be: what do you want to tell other leaders? What advice do you have to give for those of us striving to lead other people-to serve other people?
Damone: Take it a day at a time. Don’t get caught up in what’s going to happen next month or next year. Don’t spend time in the future or the past. Be present. Smile. Stay positive. Have a good group of friends and people around you. Be able to go out-enjoy yourself, have fun. Travel around the world. And no matter how bleak things get, always keep a positive, optimistic attitude. Whenever you meet someone, look them in their eyes, shake their hand and smile-no matter what color you are, no matter what race you are; if they have an issue with you and your ethnic background, that’s completely on them. That has nothing to do with you. Don’t let those things interfere with your interactions with that person. They are going to have to pay for everything that they do or didn’t do, or the way they feel-because at the end of the day, we are all God’s children, on his Earth, trying to be his hands and feet. No matter if you’re pink, brown, purple or orange-that’s your job, not to judge anyone else. If they do that, like we said, let the Big Man take care of that-you can’t do anything about it.
Part II will have topical headers and cover a variety of Damone’s thoughts on leadership in general.