April Jackson finds forgiveness after apology

Most likely, Salisbury City Councilwoman April Jackson was a little nervous when Monday night’s meeting began.

A few days earlier, she had, by her admission, carelessly posted a statement on Facebook referring to President Trump as “retarded” and comparing him to Holly Center residents.

“Ya’alls President is retarded … He’s far pass the Holly Center,” wrote Jackson, who was elected in November 2015 to represent District 1.

During the weekend, she told the Salisbury Independent she would apologize for the comment that sent a flurry of negative comments through the community. Many insulted her. Others called for her resignation.

The council chamber was packed when the meeting began at 6 p.m., with several people in attendance planning to scold her and remind her a petition was being circulated to remove her from office.

Jackson was aware of that when she stood and walked to the podium. Dabbing at tears, she looked those in the audience in the eye and said she was sorry.

“I am standing here this evening to publicly apologize for offending the intellectually disabled. I never meant to hurt anyone.

“As a woman of God and as a leader I have to set an example. I have a position to hold, grandchildren to raise and a position with people looking up to me,” she said, her voice shaking.

“I can admit my fault, using the wrong terminology. If anyone knows me, they know my purpose was not to hurt anyone. I pray that you accept my apologies. I deeply apologize from my heart. I regret ever making that comment,” she said, crying.

In hindsight, it was a bad time to post, she said, because her emotions were running high after the airstrike on Syria. She was frustrated and concerned about all the deaths.

“I lashed out on my personal Facebook page. I hope you accept my apologies and let us go on with our lives. I promise I won’t do it again,” she said.

When she finished, applause erupted. Nobody yelled an obscenity. There was no booing.

Soon afterward, following business the City Council conducted, Council President Jack Heath asked if anybody had a public comment. Several did.

A man Heath welcomed as “Kyle” said he originally went to the meeting to “address April’s actions, but her words showed a lot of class and dignity, to own your actions and to apologize,” he said, as mutters of agreement and an “Amen” were heard in the audience.

“It personally got to me because my great uncle passed this year at the Holly Center. I would like to thank you. I would like to accept your apology and I would also like to shake your hand,” he said, as the mumbles of approval grew louder, with a “Thank you, Lord” and “Hallelujah.”

Jackson stood and extended her arms and the two hugged.

Another man walked to the podium.

“I do, as well, thank you, Councilwoman Jackson, for your apology,” he said.

Friends of his have a child who lives at the Holly Center, close friends, so her words hurt him. Although she is protected by First Amendment rights, she is held responsible by voters. Leaders, he told her, his voice kind, live in glass houses and what they say resonates deeply in the community.

“I wouldn’t mind shaking your hand as well for your apology,” he said to more applause as the two embraced.

 

Bishop James Eure said he was there because Jackson is “important to our city.”

“She is important to our young people. Our young people look up to her. A mistake has been made, but what about forgiveness? How many times should I forgive my brother? And Jesus said 70 times seven. You know, a mistake has been made, but let’s move on from here,” he said.

He drew laughter when he said, “I almost started preaching. I said ‘Amen.’”

“April, we love you and we pray this will never happen again. Let’s move on from here, OK? Amen.”

A man Heath introduced only as McKinley said he has a disabled grandson and was furious when Trump imitated a handicapped reporter.

“When he did that he made fun of my grandson. What did we say about that?” he said.

His good-natured advice to Jackson, offered with a smile, was, “Get rid of that Facebook. I don’t ever want to see your name again. OK? That’s what you need to get rid of. I know whatever you said … a lot of people are going to take it the wrong way. But you were lady, woman, enough to apologize. I hope we can move on from that point,” he said, to nods and clapping.

Kim Spotts, the mother of a child with Down syndrome, said the word “retarded” is too often used carelessly, but not necessarily to hurt anyone. It perpetuates a negative stigma that belittles children and adults with special needs, she said.

“If we are to move forward, if we are to take anything from this, it is that this word is hurtful,” she said.

Spotts said she believes Jackson “truly misspoke.”

“So, for those circulating a petition, if there is a politician in this country who has ever misspoken and then had their position taken away from them, we’d have no politicians, right?” she said to laughter.

“We do not need to vilify Ms. Jackson. To those who have jumped on this bandwagon to vilify Ms Jackson, I tell you to stop,” she said, to hearty applause.

Andrea Stephens, Jackson’s friend, said when she saw the Facebook post, she wasn’t offended, even though she is disabled and suffers seizures due to a beating years ago. Afterward, she forgave her assailant.

“I look at forgiveness as an opportunity to have another chance and another chance. That’s what God is all about. If it wasn’t for forgiveness, I probably wouldn’t be here,” she said.

“We all get upset sometimes and we say wrong things. And neither one of you in here can tell me that it hasn’t happened to you. You probably did it last night and you probably didn’t pay it no mind. But guess what? God forgives you,” she said.

Jackson thanked everyone who spoke, “even the ones who were probably going to ream me for a minute.”

“I thank you because it lets me know that God is real. This has been hard,” she said, crying. “It seems like a year because people just take things and make them the way they want to make it,” she said.

Her address, phone number and guesses about her Social Security income were posted, she said.

“These are the things they have done to me. I’m sorry that I’m crying but nobody knows the stress I went through this weekend. I never shed a tear. As a leader, I have to set an example. This is what I’m doing today, setting an example. I am showing the way. Anybody else who has done this, please don’t do it anymore. Be cautious what you say and what you do,” she said.

“I hope that everything is fine today, that we leave here in perfect peace,” she said.

Heath, who earlier said Jackson’s comment angered and disgusted him, spoke in a relaxed tone as he thanked attendees.

“This is what makes our city great. Everybody respected each other, presented their opinions in a very concise and great manner,” he said.

“That’s what makes our city great.”

A screen shot of April Jackson’s Facebook post, which has since been removed.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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