Celebrating the African American Experience
Entrepreneur and philanthropist Hiram Jackson ’87, publisher and CEO of Real Times Media, one of the nation’s leading creators of African American content, credits much of his success to his ILR classmates.
“There’s something different about ILRies,” he said. “Their frame of mind, their approach, their collaborative nature – that, more than anything, helped frame who I am as an executive.”
Classmates, he said, “have gone on to do phenomenal things and become global leaders. And they have inspired me to build a national business.”
Real Times Media, founded in 2003 and based in Detroit, is home to the most extensive African American newspaper collective in the United States. It is the parent company of five of the country’s most respected African American-owned news organizations: the Atlanta Daily World, Atlanta Tribune, Chicago Defender, Michigan Chronicle and New Pittsburgh Courier.
“These are iconic publications that have told the story of the African American journey since the turn of the century,” Jackson said. “We purchased them to preserve them, and to ensure that they would successfully evolve into the digital age.”
RTM, as the company is known, has several other divisions that celebrate the African American experience.
Pitch Black, its fastest-growing division, is a cultural marketing company that offers consulting and messaging strategies to engage diverse communities. “We help clients understand the science behind the demographics of how to move audiences that are Black and brown,” he said, calling it “a really exciting business to be in today.”
Who’s Who In Black is a professional lifestyle brand that – through books, magazines and special events – highlights African American achievement in 15 markets across the country.
RTM Digital Studios, “one of our most cherished assets,” makes its unparalleled archive of historical photographs, videos and film clips of the African American experience available to universities and libraries worldwide. “Because we own these amazing and important publications, we went through the task of digitizing every issue ever published, all the way back to 1905,” Jackson said. “These publications have been at the center of every major event and period since 1900 – they tell not only the Black American story, but the American story.”
Jackson, whose previous career was in venture capital, had been an investor in Real Times Media since its earliest days. In 2005 – after running several companies of his own – he was asked to advise on RTM’s future and direction; a year later, he was named publisher and CEO.
Before becoming an entrepreneur – “something that was always in my blood” – he followed a more traditional path.
After graduating from the ILR School, Jackson was a labor relations representative for the Ford Motor Co. “I chose to go into the plant as opposed to headquarters because I wanted to understand the nuts and bolts of how people worked in the plant,” he said. He later moved to Ford World Headquarters, where he participated in labor relations negotiations with the United Auto Workers. “The education I got at the ILR School was just phenomenal in terms of preparing me for what I encountered in the plant and in national negotiations with the UAW,” he said.
His entrepreneurial journey began in 1990, when he founded New Center Collision, an automotive repair business, with friends. Then came GlobalView Technologies, Genesis Energy Solutions, The Ambient Group and Paradise Valley Real Estate Holdings.
Along with his other ventures, Jackson is founder and chairman of Catalyst Detroit, a new nonprofit that advances Black entrepreneurship, social innovation and economic development.
Community involvement has been central to his career. He has served on numerous local and national boards, including the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan, NAACP, Charles Wright Museum of African American History, Automotive Hall of Fame and National Newspaper Publishers Association.
“I’m active in organizations like the Boys and Girls Club because there are lots of kids in the inner city that, if you give them guidance and support and help them see the future a bit, then they start to crystallize their vision and truly understand what they can become,” he said. “It’s hard to visualize your future — you need people around you to say, ‘Hey, I did it. I was you.’
“I was a kid in the inner city. People helped me and gave me a chance. So there’s nothing more important to me, other than family, than giving back, helping others and being visible in the community.”