The face of Gautier is changing.
Richard “D.J.” Jackson, who is black, was elected to the City Council on Tuesday night. It’s a first for Gautier.
When the Sun Herald asked Jackson if it was too old-fashioned to point that out, he said, “Sure it’s old-fashioned, but it gets blacks’ attention. They don’t actually know Gautier has never had a black American on the board.”
It’s been a long time coming, and Jackson has been part of the growth in the city that was incorporated in 1986. The black community that started out as one isolated neighborhood in the heart of town has grown and spread to the point that he could be elected in a ward that doesn’t even include that old neighborhood.
And not just barely elected. He stomped it, taking 63 percent of the vote.
“People want change,” he said, “so popularity isn’t what it’s about. They want someone who will fight for and change the community, make a difference. They want to see the condition of the city change. We can only do better.”
For so long, we were very much a minority. When Gautier first started, there was only one black neighborhood.
Richard Jackson, new Ward 2 councilman
Jackson, 46, lives in College Park, a subdivision that had few black residents when he was growing up. That has changed dramatically. He said his mother has a house there too, and cousins live nearby.
Even though the 2010 Census indicated middle-class blacks were leaving one city in Jackson County and moving to Gautier, he said he doesn’t see that as the big factor in this election.
He said people with families in Gautier — born and raised here as he is, established in a church and raising families — are the key to growing the black community. He said his family tree in Gautier goes back 130 years.
“For so long, we were very much a minority in Gautier. When the city first started, there was only one black neighborhood,” he said.
It was called Ghost Town because it didn’t have street lights and was dark at night, he said. Now his home, in Ward 2, has nearly a half-dozen subdivisions that are predominantly black. His ward starts at Dolphin Road and moves east, past Ladnier Road.
So Jackson, who makes his living as a sound-equipment supplier for events and by providing contract security for companies has stepped into the role of city leader. He said it wasn’t really that big a step from helping at Boys & Girls Club events or giving freely to good causes in town.
He said he wants to be part of the change and to help give the city new businesses; places to eat and buy clothes; pee-wee basketball; and a place for families to gather.
He also pointed out his uniqueness may be short-lived, because there are more black candidates in the June 6 general election in Gautier — two wards and the councilman at-large.
The city just changed out its mayor, he said, and voters appear to be looking for new faces and new blood to lead.