Growing up in Jackson, I attended five schools before graduating high school. Starting at Andrew Jackson and finishing at JCM, I have one or two snapshots of memory from those early years of elementary school – seeing the kudzu vines through the window of my first-grade class, playing football on the front lawn of Highland Park Elementary, riding the bus down Fairmont on the way to Lincoln – each snapshot only a second or two long in my head, more of a feeling than a fully formed picture.
My memories of my secondary years in school are more distinct; there’s a motion to them – a moving picture of the past rather than a Polaroid. Sometimes, though, I prefer the still shots.
Other than my front lawn football games at Highland Park and kickball at Lincoln, other pictures pass through on a reel from time to time – Oregon Trail in the library, Paul Bunyan on the outside stage, and the Scholastic Book Fair every fall and spring.
Sure, I bought some books, but the purchases I looked forward to making the most were the Magic Eye posters. When I was young, it wouldn’t take me long to find the “hidden” picture that was actually right in front of me the whole time. I can remember the gradual smoothing of the design as my eyes adjusted to a new perspective. For a few brief moments, all I could see was the image that was hidden at first; my old perspective was gone. What really amazed me was what happened a few seconds later.
Once my brain trained itself to see this new perspective, I could alternate between the two images seamlessly. I could see the multiple angles simultaneously, and the more I looked at Magic Eye posters, the better I became at seeing what was behind the initial design.
By the end of sixth grade, I had outgrown those visual mindbends and moved on to more basic posters – Charles Barkley, Will Clark, Brett Favre. There’s Nothing tricky about those – just boyhood idols I did my best to emulate—straightforward physicality without the nuance. But lately, I’ve been drawn back to some analogies the Magic Eye posters provided. There’s some depth there – literal depth in the pictures themselves and depth in the ideas they create.
For the last two months, each time I’d carefully navigate the roundabout downtown, I’d notice a refurbished building on the east side of Highland – on my left if I was driving south, on my right if I was driving north. The building has been home to many different businesses that have hiccupped to starts and stops over the years, but I could tell there was a lot of care being put into the building as it readied to house another new startup.
Earlier this week, the business inhabiting that space finally opened – Littlebird Restaurant and Bar. Littlebird offers a full vegan menu that includes a variety of bowls (grain, acai, and lentil stew) and entrees like an impossible burger or black bean and sweet potato tacos. The design for the logo and menus is impeccable, and the excitement about a restaurant option for Jacksonians who are vegan is definitely worth celebrating, but this article isn’t exactly about that because Jackson already had an eating establishment that offered full vegan options; it’s just that no one seemed to know.
Race can be a challenging topic to discuss in a way that isn’t triggering for one side or the other, but before we all dive into this deep water, let’s do our best to keep an open mind because I truly believe there is no intentional fault to be found in this conversation, only a different perspective waiting to be viewed. A theoretical Magic Eye, if you will.
In conjunction with Littlebird’s grand opening this week, The Jackson Sun (yes, it still exists) ran an article telling the story of owner Lauren Kail’s desire to have a vegan restaurant in Jackson to ensure vegan community members were “accounted for” in Jackson. Even though I’m personally not vegan, I think it’s a beautiful idea that deserves to be promoted, but another perspective also needs to be seen and addressed in this story.
Because social media is a tool that can be viewed from both angles – good and bad – it’s worth mentioning that I would’ve never thought about the contrasting perspective that began to bleed through the overwhelmingly positive article about Littlebird.
Beneath the comments on the article shared on Facebook, people pointed out that Jackson already had a vegan-friendly restaurant in East Jackson – Crystal’s Zen and Juice – that had been open for a year in the burgeoning culture hub of South Royal. Like Littlebird, Crystal’s Zen and Juice also had a variety of bowls, a vegan burger, and multiple appetizers for vegans in Jackson…but no feature article in The Jackson Sun.
This is where this conversation can get tricky, but I’ve never been one to mince words, so let’s face this issue head-on.
It’s 2023, and we’ve made incredible strides to try our best to achieve some semblance of equality for everyone. Only two generations ago, we were separating people in restaurants, schools, and water fountains solely based on the color of their skin. There are people still alive in our city who experienced those atrocities. Thankfully, we’re not there anymore. We all have equal rights now, and that’s worth acknowledging; it didn’t solve all our problems, though.
Because of the system we used to built our country (on the backs of slaves, to be clear), we still have an equity issue today. The tangled webs of discrimination, murder, slavery, and blatant racism don’t simply disentangle themselves because laws of equality are passed. For hundreds of years, the ruling class and race in this country built the system, paved the roads of navigation in that system, and drew that map to success that provided them the most accessible route possible to achievement and prosperity. None of that is undone immediately; it takes time to reconstruct.
In 2020, in the wake of George Floyd being murdered and everyone being quarantined at home during COVID to see it, we began to have authentic conversations about race in our country – what it means to be seen, heard, and understood as a minority. Companies intentionally promoted Black entrepreneurs and creators. We collectively realized that there were, in fact, ramifications to this inequitable order that we had constructed as an American society.
While I had always considered myself open-minded and progressive, it was only then that I realized I had so many personal blindspots towards the plight of Black people in our region, state, and community. I had to become intentional in my thought processes about being aware of the things I always took for granted as a white male. I called that privilege back then, but that word triggers people now. Regardless of the vernacular we use, we have to come to terms with a scale that is still unbalanced, bringing us back to this piece’s subject.
Despite some comments I saw on social media, I don’t think the slight to Crystal’s vegan restaurant was intentional; I simply believe it was the result of this constant course correction of inequity in which we find ourselves. Crystal’s Zen and Juice was overlooked because it was on South Royal and may not have had the subliminal connections that Littlebird had. The slight wasn’t intentional; it simply happened due to generations of inequity.
Littlebird sure as hell isn’t at fault for that; the system is. But we can change all of it by being intentional and by working hard to see beyond our immediate sight-line. In other words, there’s another perspective behind the initial image we’re accustomed to seeing. We naturally see the things we’re used to seeing, and that takes time and intentionality to look beyond what’s always been directly in front of us.
A few years ago, my daughter bought a Magic Eye poster at her book fair at school. I stared at that damn thing for thirty minutes and couldn’t see beyond the collective design of colors and lines. I knew there was something underneath all of it, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t conjure it.
I guess age had calcified my mind to a point where seeing what wasn’t in front of me was more complicated than it used to be. Initially, this topic followed the same trajectory.
I knew Littlebird Restaurant and Bar was going to be vegan-friendly weeks before the article was published, but I never thought about Crystal’s establishment being here already, even though I’d been there a few times. It wasn’t until I saw the comments on Facebook that I realized the slight that had taken place…and I was embarrassed I hadn’t thought of it before. I can admit that I don’t always see things the way I need to see them, but recognizing that is the first step to understanding other perspectives.
More often than not, there’s another picture beyond the one that’s easiest to see.
Sometimes, there’s not a hero or a villain in a story; sometimes, the conflict is internal and simply about admitting there’s something that needs to be changed and then doing what we can to make that change.
Out of all of it, though, Jackson now has TWO vegan establishments that deserve our support…and that’s what’s exciting.