Maynard Jackson documentary in the works

Twelve years later, Maynard Jackson remains an inspiration.

It was 12 summers ago this June that Maynard Jackson, forever on the move, collapsed at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., and died. His big heart finally giving out, he left the rest of us in sorrow.

Even then we knew that memories of him would always fill the corners of our minds and that special place in our hearts. You knew it even if, like me, you never met him. You knew from the stories people told and still tell. You knew because his reputation preceded him.

He worked to increase the status of minority businesses.

He oversaw the construction of a new terminal at Hartsfield International Airport that now, along with Maynard Jackson High School, bears his name.

Before his second term ended in 1982, he shook up the city’s police department, firing police chief John Inman who was seen as racist and ineffective at reducing crime.

And if nothing else, you knew him as the first black mayor of this city too busy to hate.

“My father used to say that ‘the struggle for freedom is twofold: one, to get free and two, to stay free through political activism (the ballot), educational achievement (the book) and economic opportunity (the buck),” said Brooke Jackson Edmond, Jackson’s daughter. “It is crucial that we keep the stories of our leaders alive, for our sake and for the benefit of our communities at large.”

Keeping her father's memory alive is the engine driving her family's efforts to portray Jackson's life in a documentary. Last month, on the day he would've celebrated his 77th birthday, Auburn Avenue Films launched an $800,000 crowdfunding campaign on to help underwrite the cost of making the documentary, "Maynard."

That they would take this route is quintessentially Maynard Jackson. He was a grassroots community servant. The crowdfunding campaign is a way for people not only to support the project, it’s also a way for them to voice their support for the work Jackson did.

The film promises to sum up once and for all Jackson the man, the politician and the game changer from the people who knew him best, his children and widow, Valerie.

Efforts to make the film began last year, shortly after a conversation between Maynard Jackson III and his wife, Wendy Eley Jackson, who own Auburn Avenue Films.

It hit them that everyone has a Maynard Jackson story; they didn’t want to leave it to Wikipedia to tell it.

They want to dispel the misconception that he’d been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Second, they hope to show what it was like for Jackson to grow up without his father. And third, they want to show that Jackson worked hard to make a difference in the lives of others.

“We want people to know that Maynard’s story is very common, but what makes him extraordinary is he never quit trying to do the right thing,” Wendy said.

They have tapped casting director Winsome Sinclair to produce the film, Oscar-nominated Samuel D. Pollard ("Eyes on the Prize"; "American Masters") to direct it, and Emmy and Peabody awards-winner Sheila Curran Bernard, ("Eyes on the Prize") to do the writing. If things go as planned, they expect to start production in mid-May.

I’ll have to leave the Jackson stories to others to tell because except reporting on his passing — specifically his becoming the latest high-profile victim of heart disease, an epidemic among African-Americans men — I have none.

By the time I arrived in Atlanta in 2000, he was eight years removed from the mayor’s office.

Brooke describes her father as a public servant who was willing to take hits for the greater good.

“Because he had insisted on so many far-reaching policy changes, he couldn’t get a job in an Atlanta law firm when he left office,” she said. “He had to go to Chicago to get a job.”

Jackson’s assistant Michael Lomax, now president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, said Jackson was in many ways the architect of modern Atlanta, that he caused the city to “just open up in ways that were unimaginable.”

And so, without the benefit of a documentary to view, here’s what I’m left with. Maynard Jackson believed in the nurturing of ideas, innovation and personal reinvention, however small or insignificant.

He was effective because he wasn't self-serving or risk-averse. He was inspiring because he remained steadfast in his pursuit of what could be.

And he did it without a thought of what it might cost him personally.


Gracie Bonds Staples is an award-winning journalist who has been writing for daily newspapers since 1979, when she graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi. She joined The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2000 after stints at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Sacramento Bee, Raleigh Times and two Mississippi dailies. Staples was recently promoted to Senior Features Enterprise Writer. Look for her columns Thursdays and Saturdays in Living and alternating Sundays in Metro.

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.