Jerry and me
There is a lot of criticism over the influence and the use of social media platforms as vehicles of misinformation and vitriol. But there is another story to tell. It is about a guy named Jerry Brown and me.
He died recently. I grieve him as a dear and valued friend – even shed a tear upon hearing the news. And that is remarkable because I never met Jerry. I never heard his voice on the telephone. We never exchanged emails.
The only common denominator was that we both spent a lifetime in Chicago – under very different circumstances. I grew up in an all-white lower-income blue-collar neighborhood on the northwest side. Jerry spent his life in the segregated inner city. I staked my political claim with the Republican Party. Jerry was a staunch Democrat. We both engaged in civic and political activities throughout our lives.
Other than that, we were just two guys with Facebook accounts. Somewhere along the line the mysterious Zuckerberg algorithms connected us. I cannot recall if he had responded to something of mine that popped up on his home page – or something he wrote popped up on mine. It does not matter.
However, it started, Jerry and I carried on a multi-year dialogue – or more of a discourse that also included others in those threads. They were the kind of exchanges you would expect of friends. We talked of family, the old day, religion, history, health and, of course, politics. There was no one on Facebook that I interacted with more than I did with Jerry.
Jerry did not like President Trump, to say the least. And he was not overly fond of Republican policies in general. But he was both an intelligent and principled person. He never saw the “other side” as consummate evil – or his side as having a monopoly on goodness. He was a black man, but he never saw himself as tribal. As a matter of fact, many of his strongest admonitions were directed to black folks acting badly. He was as hard on the activities of black gangs as he was on the violence of white supremacists. It was that ““principal”” thing.
On Facebook, he operated as a self-appointed reporter – drawing attention to things he liked or disliked in his community. He was also an educator – sharing his years of knowledge and wisdom. And he was a scold. He did not hold back when he thought someone needed a good tongue-lashing.
Jerry also had a sense of humor that seemed to be founded on a general joy of life. He could express anger at situations but never was an angry person. We had hoped to meet one day – maybe have dinner. I imagine that we would have laughed a lot.
If you followed Jerry’s Facebook postings, you would also know that he was a family man – proud of his children and grandchildren. Bursting with pride, to use the term. I got to know them to a degree through the postings – and I would say that Jerry had every reason to be proud. He did a good job as father and grandfather.
I have a lot of family stuff on my Facebook – birthdays, holidays, and the accomplishments of my kids. Inevitably, there would be a “like” from Jerry – and often that iconic “heart.”
I have often mentioned in commentaries that I had never hated another human … ever. I saw the same in Jerry. He looked at every situation through an unadulterated principle of right and wrong. He had a moral compass that guided him.
His health had been declining in recent years – high blood pressure, cancer — but his lasts posts – a day or so before he died – never gave any hint that the world would lose him so soon. He was still reporting, educating and … scolding.
I often wondered if it is possible that when we move beyond this mortal plain, we get the God in whom we believed. I hope that is true for Jerry. He has earned a high place in the heaven of his faith.
See … social media is not all bad. I am thankful to have known Jerry and had him as a true “friend.” I will miss him.
So, there ‘tis.