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Breaking Out of That Comfort Zone

Lessons Learned from One Encounter with Rev. Jesse Jackson

(By Erika Willitzer – Executive Director of Defiance County Economic Development) Featured in the Crescent News

I was 19 and working at The University of Akron’s Radio Station WZIP-FM. This next part is going to sound crazy, but it is true. It was at this rap radio station that I developed my love for news and politics. The station was visited by R & B Stars like Beastie Boys and Wu-Tang Clan. I didn’t get star struck by these rap groups, but I did get amped up covering stories for the station’s small news department. I got to cover news conferences and do interviews with Henry Kissinger, Collin Powell, Cokie Roberts, Hilary Clinton, and even former President Bill Clinton.

One of the most memorable was covering Rev. Jesse Jackson’s news conference. I was excited, nervous, but more excited than anything. I remember so vividly getting to the news conference where I’m in a sea of reporters, some of which were from the major networks. The news conference was at 2 pm and it was going on 3:30 pm. Rev. Jesse Jackson finally comes in, says hello, and takes one question from the floor. He then says, “I have to leave.”

My internal dialogue screamed inside. What? We have been waiting for over an hour and a half, and this pompous political leader can only take one question! The entire mob of news reporters made a quick sigh of disgust.

And then, I did it. I screamed out in a deep voice, “Mr. Rev. Jackson. Sir. (I stated that loud and slowly) You stop right there. You talk this game of honor, and with all due respect, we all have been waiting to ask you questions. We were promised 30 minutes of your time, and as a man who says he keeps his word, you should!”

Jackson stops dead in his tracks as he is about to exit. He then looks at me and says, “You are right!” I apologize, my next meeting will just have to wait. I AM A MAN of my word. Let’s start with you, young lady. What’s your question?

Rev. Jackson stayed there talking and answering questions for over an hour. That year, I did receive several awards for my reporting, but the awards don’t mean much. It was an experience

I’ll always cherish, along with these lessons:

1.) Not all politicians are pompous. They are just under extreme pressure, like many of us.

2.) It’s okay to take a stand for something, no matter your age.

3.) Also, always shoot for the stars! No matter where you are, continue to push yourself outside of the normal boundaries, because when you do, amazing things can happen.

And if you are wondering, I don’t remember the exact question I asked the Reverend. I know it was race-tension related, but the lessons, I remembered were far more critical. I can learn a thing or two from my 19-year-old self. Now, in my 40’s, I still need to reflect on getting out of my comfort zone and pushing myself, just like I did when I was younger.

If you are thinking about starting a new business or taking on a new opportunity in your existing Defiance County business, get out of your comfort zone and start today by reaching out to our team of economic specialists. We would love the opportunity to work with you. Email me at

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