Adam Jackson: CEO of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a Baltimore-based Grassroots Think Tank

by Karl Nelson II, Intern Media 

“This interview, in my opinion, keys in on the Black community. Black independence. Black empowerment. Self love. Those are just a few of the things that come to mind when I think about my interview/conversation with Adam.” ~ Karl Nelson II

Throughout history, we’ve made the wrongful assumption that dialogue centered on political issues is better when it only involves politicians. However, it’s important that we insert the voices of everyday people into those conversations.

The voices of everyday people from communities around the world are crucial when it comes to political dialogue and debate because these people are the ones living everyday of their lives experiencing the affects of political policy.

Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS), a grassroots organization and think tank based in Baltimore, understands the importance of empowering people in the community, especially Black folks.

“We can and will collectively and strategically build the power necessary to effectively protect the humanity of all Black people,” according to LBS’ website.

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Adam Jackson, the CEO and one of the co-founders of LBS, would be one of the first people to tell you that bringing about change sometimes requires you to take action radically. It’s true. Your approach, at times, needs to be extreme and unapologetic in order to create the kind of change that matters. That’s what I admire about LBS. They’re seeking radical change regarding policy and they’re doing so as an unapologetic Black independent group of “concerned leaders.”

Black residents in Baltimore are experiencing adversity on so many levels in society today and LBS is doing their part to address those issues head on.

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LBS taps into the intellectual and cultural resources that have been created by Black people and their organizations.

LBS focuses on four key areas:

• Policy advocacy
• Youth development
• Arts & Culture
• Autonomous intellectual innovations

“We hold tight to a vision of a stronger infrastructure that is community based by proudly noting that ‘We are the freest Black people in Baltimore,’” LBS’ website says.

LBS was created in 2010 because Adam and his courageous friends shared a desire to uplift Black people by creating more independence in the Black community.

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At the time, they were aware of the fact that there weren’t many think tanks focusing on policy, specifically in Baltimore city and other predominantly Black communities. 

Today, LBS continues to empower the Black community, fighting for them to gain more access to money and resources.

That’s exactly why I wasn’t surprised when I later learned that LBS had received significant donations from the likes of former NFL Quarterback and Activist Colin Kaepernick and Rapper J. Cole. Last year, Kaepernick and Cole donated thousands of dollars to the organization in support of their efforts. 

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That’s just one of the things Adam and I discussed during our interview. Checkout the full interview below and choose to be inspired. | KMN

 

THE INTERVIEW

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Karl: I read an article about a donation that Colin Kaepernick and J. Cole made to LBS. I did a brief write up about the donation and posted it on my social media platforms. That’s how I first came across LBS. I know that Kaepernick had previously donated $25,000 to the organization and then most recently he and J. Cole teamed up to donate $10,000 a piece to LBS. How much has your organization benefited from those donations?

Adam: So, there are a couple things to know about those donations. Colin Kaepernick’s donation was focused on our camp. One thing that I remember about his initial donation is that it covered some of the operational costs. That helped us with staffing and getting materials for students. J. Cole’s donation wasn’t as specific, but it’s going to help with the operational costs around work that we do right now, especially with the political work that we do.

You co-founded LBS in 2010. What inspired you and your partners to create this organization?

My friends and I were students at Towson University, at the time, and we were on the political debate team. A lot of the work that we were debating about was focused on White supremacy, racism, and using Black power as the framework to uplift Black folks. We considered that to be our intellectual training ground. We thought it would be really dope to take that expertise back to the city of Baltimore. Since we were policy debaters, we figured that LBS was the best way to do that.

Think tanks that focus on policy aren’t really prevalent in the Black community at a grassroots level. There’s no policy advocacy arm for the Black community. People will say that there’s a policy advocacy arm at the national level, but in places like Baltimore we knew that didn’t exist. So, we decided to create that in order to empower Black people in that community.

I love the fact that LBS inserts community voices into political conversations. It makes me think back to how just after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, CNN held a Town Hall and allowed members of that community to speak face-to-face with politicians about gun reform. I thought that was powerful. That said, how does LBS ensure that members of the community have a voice when it comes to political issues like gun reform? 

I think a lot of LBS’ strength, power and influence comes from the fact that we have spent a lot of time organizing amongst the Black people who do work in Baltimore City. So, a lot of our expertise and perspective is influenced by all of the brilliant Black people who do different work around the city.

For example, with our youth fund, part of our objective was to go into those meetings, where we have a seat at the table, and structure the fund so that our recommendations were centered on how we can get more Black people, who aren’t in these meetings, more resources.

We strategize about how we can get more resources and more money in the hands of Black people who we know are doing work around the city, as opposed to just becoming a new Black gatekeeper, which is the status quo.

Since LBS came on the scene in 2010, have you seen a lot of improvement and progression in Baltimore from the work you all have done?

Absolutely. One of the things we’ve been influential in doing is criticizing the non-profit and philanthropic sector. We thought that was important because one of the main issues with a lot of Black institutions in Baltimore City is that we don’t get resources to do a lot of our work on behalf of Black folks. Most of the time that’s because White corporate non-profit entities are the ones crowding out resources and getting the lion’s share of money and influence. We try to make sure that we inject that criticism so that more Black people can have access to money and resources in the community.

Being a consistent voice in places like City Hall and Annapolis means that more people are aware of the serious dangers impacting their communities. We think there’s been an improvement in that area. More people are awake. More people are listening. More people are paying attention to all of these different things that they weren’t paying attention to before. People feel more empowered.

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LBS is independent both financially and politically. I think that’s something to applaud. How have you all been able to maintain that level of independence throughout the years?

One of the main things we recognized early on is that if you’re a political advocacy organization and you are lobbying for legislation and trying to get certain policies changed that will benefit Black folks, becoming a 501c3 would be a mistake because we would have to rely on grant money as a sustainable source of income. When that becomes your motive of operation as a Black political organization then that also means you are a lot of times relying on a lot of large White philanthropic institutions, and so the second that you become “too Black” or out-of-step with what they want you to do, you get less money or you don’t get any money at all.

So, what we decided to develop early on was independent revenue streams for the organization to thrive. We do get grants occasionally, but we don’t seek them out. Seeking is looking for grants all of the time. By doing that, you end up spending all of your time looking for grants. Most of my time is spent recruiting people to become sustainers. Sustainers are individuals who donate to LBS on a monthly basis. We try to give a really low entry point. For example, sustainers can commit to donating as low as $2 per month. They can go as high as $50 per month. We also sell books. We do contractual work. We do consulting. We use that money to empower the work that we do now. We rely on business that we generate ourselves to fund the work that we do.

LBS’ work is predicated on the fundamental belief that Black people are the solution to their own problems. I think that’s a very powerful statement. Can you elaborate on that statement?

In this country, there’s a notion that Black people can only be clients of social service or human service organizations. Oftentimes Blacks aren’t seen as experts. They’re not always seen as having their own methods for their own problems. LBS believes that Black people can build their own infrastructure and their own institutions to do for self without the necessity of other people’s intervention and without waiting for people to come save them. We can just do it ourselves. If we just put the resources in the right place, then we can do it ourselves.

When Black men and women say they want to focus on the plight of the Black community, of course you get those on the outside looking in who say, “Well, isn’t that secluded or segregated? Why are you not wanting to contribute to society as a whole?” What’s your response to that criticism?

I believe Black economics and political independence is good for everyone because it means Black people are defining what is good for them and what is good for their future independent of anybody else. People call that divisive though. People say that’s pushing other people out of the conversation. The fact of the matter is any group of people on the planet interested in building power, that’s exactly what they do. They empower their communities themselves without relying on other people. Other races do it, but when Black people do it it’s viewed as being exclusionary.

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Given the controversial political climate that we’re in, I have found that myself and a lot of other young people are more attentive to what’s going on now compared to when we had President Barack Obama in office. I think that has a lot to do with people being fed up and upset with the current administration. Have you seen that as well? Have you seen how young people are now more passionate about and involved in politics?

Absolutely. Today, I think more young folks are interested in having a positive impact in their communities. I think we can attribute that to the rise of social media and a bunch of other tools that people are using. One of the main problems I see, though, is that people are seeing social media and those other platforms as an end-all, as the thing we should be working towards, as only thinking about being famous and getting on television. Too many people want to be in a viral video talking about racism. However, I do think young people are more aware and more excited to get involved. More young people are interested in social justice. ©

 

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Adam,

Thanks my brother for taking the time to do this interview. You shared a lot and were very open about LBS and your thoughts on where we are in society today. I appreciate that. There are a lot of people who talk a good game, but who are not necessarily putting in the work. That’s definitely not you though. You and your business partners/friends are putting in the ground work and not looking for recognition. I can tell that LBS was created from a genuine place with hopes to create real change that matters. I’m sure you all have heard this many times before, but I’ll reiterate it. Thank you for the work that you all are doing. We need more organizations like LBS — an organization that is uplifting, educating, and uniting the Black community. Hopefully, we can do this again someday. Thanks man.

Respectfully,

Karl Nelson II

intern media

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