By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
Eighteen-years ago, Courtney Carson was darting in and out on the dark side of life…involved in drugs and gangs that ended in a 17-second fight branding him as one of the Decatur 7 youth expelled by a school board operating on a “zero tolerance” policy.
His nightmare began in 1999 at an Eisenhower High School football game in Decatur, Illinois. Those few slug-out moments got him expelled from school for two-years. Carson’s mother reached out for Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. and Rev. James Meeks. They called the board’s policy “unfair.”
When Jackson went to the school to negotiate a lesser expulsion time, he was arrested something today the reverend is very proud of for it led to a one-year expulsion period and an international discussion on the controversial zero tolerance policy.
Carson later got into more trouble that landed him in jail for 90-days, but Rev. Jackson did not give up on him. Carson got his GED and Rev. Jackson awarded him with a college scholarship. Carson enrolled in the Aurora University in 2003 then returned to Eisenhower High School where his troubles began and began to teach. “They set aside a classroom for me on Friday’s to teach at-risk youth.”
Last Saturday, Carson, now a 34-year-old minister at the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, came to the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters to personally thank Rev. Jackson for saving his life.
Recalling that time, Jackson said, “We ended up going to jail…a big, knock down, drag out national and international struggle….”
Looking proudly at Carson, Jackson said Carson was elected to the Eisenhower High School board “the same board that kicked him out of school He was down but not out. The water was deep, but he never stopped kicking,” Jackson said as the audience loudly applauded.
Thanking Jackson, Carson said, “If he had not come to Decatur, I do not know where I would be today. So, Rev. Jackson, you saved my life, and I thank God for you…,” he said giving Rev. Jackson a big hug.
Accompanied by his wife and four children, Rev. Carson said God called him to the ministry. “I was running away from it. When I was in high school, I ran from it, but when God called me into the ministry, I had to say yes….
“I have been extremely inspired by Rev. Jackson, his life and his legacy. What he has done for me, I have to do for others,” Carson said.
When Jackson was arrested fighting on his behalf, Carson said, “I didn’t totally understand it. That man did all that for seven students so they could get a healthy life because without an education couple with a felony and a record, it’s hard to live. That felony makes it hard for anybody to get a good job and be able to take care of his family.
“I thank God for Rev. Jackson…for Michelle Chambers, who is over the (PUSH) Education Department. She did remarkable things for us. She became my surrogate mother. I thank God for using Rev. Jackson as an instrument pointing me in the right direction.”