Jason Jackson helps leaders and teams at HealthPartners with critically important conversations as a diversity and inclusion consultant. On this episode, he shares his work and passion for equity and inclusion, the importance of not placating to whiteness, and finding a community of care while managing anxiety and depression.

Listen to the episode or read the transcript.

Calling Minnesota home

Jason Jackson and his mother moved to Atlanta from Dallas when he was 9 years old. He attended Georgia State University but headed to New York City to “find himself.”

During that time, Jackson’s mother and stepfather moved to the Twin Cities. Jackson said he knew absolutely nothing about the area beyond Prince and that Brenda and Brandon were from there on Beverley Hills: 90210.

Jackson says he didn’t love the idea of the cold and the snow, but he did love the idea of continuing his education in the Twin Cities.

The class that changed it all

Jackson took classes at a Minneapolis community college and eventually transferred to the University of Minnesota. It was during a women’s studies class that things began to click for him. He says this is where he heard, for the first time, language that connected to who he was as Black and queer, language that intersected race and class and gender. This language, says Jackson, could be used for his own advocacy and to find his community.

Finding a care team

Starting as a teenager, Jackson says he’s experienced overwhelming feelings, making him panic and his heart race. He always had, as he says, really anxious feelings and didn’t know what caused them. Then one day, his mother took him to a white mental health counselor who smiled and said that he thought Jackson had anxiety and depression.

The fact that the counselor smiled, says Jackson, gave him so much hope, like the counselor had seen it before and it was going to be okay. Jackson says he finally felt like his situation could change for the better. However, Jackson notes, pride gets in the way of a lot of people finding mental health help, and very often, Black and brown people suffer in silence.

Jackson says he had to be more vulnerable and get a care team behind him, which is easier said than done for many people.

Challenges and solutions, dealing with tokenism

Jackson’s role within HealthPartners is to create programming and colleague resource groups. This involves lots of trainings, lots of coaching and lots of consulting leaders to better help the organization infuse DEI into their work.

The work is rewarding, but it’s often challenging. Jackson says it’s a struggle to straddle the different spaces involved. He needs to be pushing hard and talking about white supremacy culture, while also accounting for colleagues who would consider racism to be “too heavy” of a term.

But, he says, when he’s working with a colleague and they need some support, “It’s not about me. It’s about meeting their needs.” At the same time, he knows he needs to stay true to himself and not placate to a level of whiteness when he should be telling the truth.

This approach also helps him avoid tokenism. Many times, when people ask him questions about himself, Jackson says they’re really just trying to avoid working on their own bias and racism. So, he says, “It’s my job to facilitate a dialogue and level of understanding.”

Asking questions also helps people find their “why.” Once you uncover that, he says, “it makes the work a little easier.”

We all have basic desire to be seen and be heard and belong, he says. “At the core of it, I’m a human. It’s not about black or white, it’s about people.” To hear more from Jason Jackson, listen to this episode of Off the Charts.