Monday, May 11, 2009

The Honorable Frank E. Melton, 1949-2009

It has taken me awhile to get my thoughts together since that fateful Tuesday evening when I learned that my candidate, the Honorable Frank E. Melton, Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, became gravely ill. That was one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

Around 7 p.m., on May 5th, I was getting calls on my cellphone from campaign workers reporting the vote tallies from the various precincts throughout the city. Then I received a call from a reporter stating that she heard on the police scanner that an ambulance was called to the house where Frank lived. She asked did I have a comment. I told her, "No."

Truth was I was too stunned to make a comment if I had wanted to. Meanwhile, I was still getting tallies and it became apparent early that we were not going to make it to the runoff. Now not only was I dealing with the health of my candidate, I had to come to the realization that we had lost this hard-fought election.

Shock. Disappointment. Concern. Exhaustion. I was feeling all of those emotions simultaneously. By 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, I was still feeling all those emotions, but I was coming to terms with the eventual reality, Frank was not coming back. He was on his way to his well-deserved rest.

Frank Melton from the moment he set foot in Jackson was a man on a mission and on the move. Brought in to save the only Black-owned television station in Mississippi, WLBT, Frank made major personnel changes and started a turnaround that laid the foundation for this station to become the most dominant in the Jackson market.

Frank used his wealth to help children attend college and take in children from troubled communities. He made the Farish Street YMCA his second home in Jackson, teaching hundreds of children how to swim. One of the most moving stories I learned about was how Frank paid for a single mother's son to have a lung transplant. That young man worked as a phone banker in this past campaign.

Frank also had disappointments and controversy. Despite taking numerous young men under his wing, several strayed back into the way of life that eventually got them killed. Frank paid for the funerals. It also raised his level of passion to use his position as a television general manager to publicly call out drug dealers and ineffective politicians. Frank even bought billboards that plastered the faces of drug dealers throughout the inner city in order to shed the light on a problem that frustrated him until the day he died.

His passion for a safer Jackson and a better life for inner city youth led him to run for Mayor of Jackson in 2005. He beat the incumbent mayor with 65 percent of the vote and overnight became the number one target of the political godfathers in Jackson. When he went out one ill-fated night and put a sledgehammer to an active crack house in a residential community, Frank opened the door for his enemies to come at him.

With politicians getting political mileage for challenging his agenda and people suing him or trying to convict him in court, it eventually started taking a toll on his health. The stress exacerbated his genetic heart condition and eventually led to his death at 12:10 a.m. on May 7, 2009, less than 48 hours from the time I got that call from that reporter.

Frank was depicted as a complex, egotistical man. He was not. Frank had pride in his accomplishments and he was passionate about what he believed in. He always kept his eye on the future and tried to embrace every young person that crossed his path so that they would get the same opportunities he had. Frank was task-oriented but nothing occupied his attention long. In other words, he was a "doer", not a procrastinator.

That characteristic may not have been ideal for public service, but Frank Melton will go down as one of the greatest mayors this city has ever had. He was a man of the people and he was transparent. As he used to say all the time, "it is what it is," and he was what he was.

I admire men who are free. Men who speak their mind and act decisively. Men who act as if their steps are ordered by God. Those men are not cowards, nor are they timid in the face of adversity. The power of their personality sways the masses and calls attention to what is needed. These men stand out as giants in an age of heroes and a constant in an environment of chaos.

Frank E. Melton was one of those men. It was my honor and privilege to fight for him as he fought for all of us. Like many others he encountered during his lifetime, he left a lasting impression on me. I will miss him dearly.

However, as a man of faith, I know that he is in a better place now. A place where Pop Staples would say, "Ain't nobody crying, ain't nobody worried." He is with his faithful companion, Abbey, and dwells in the right hand of the Father. He leaves behind physically a wife and two children, but he also leaves behind his spirit to be among us, our memories with him that we will cherish, and his legacy that we must protect.

Frank E. Melton sacrificed much to give to many. Now he has earned his rest and has received his reward.