No matter how hopeless our situation looked, Phillip Jackson, the founder of the Black Star Project, believed in black people.
While the rest of us lamented the absence of black fathers, Jackson got busy building an organization that helped black fathers embrace the responsibilities critical to the development of black children.
He loved black people enough to hold them accountable while helping them overcome the obstacles in their way.
Jackson, a community organizer, educator, former head of CHA and top CPS administrator, died Sunday at 68.
The last time I talked to him was about a year ago and he was in the hospital then.
Jackson had read about the plight of an elderly community activist, and wanted to find out how he could help.
While we didn’t always agree, he was always willing to talk to me despite our differences.
When we first met, Jackson was a budget administrator at City Hall, and his Black Star Project, a mentoring program, was just taking shape.
To say that Jackson could be passionate when it came to saving black youth is an understatement. The words would tumble out of his mouth non-stop until you got dizzy trying to keep up.
Norma Richardson, one of Jackson’s many admirers, apparently knows what I’m talking about.
Upon hearing that he had passed, Richardson sat down and poured out her thoughts in an email.
“In 2013 I was in the bathroom preparing for bed and listening to talk radio. Phil Jackson was on the line and he was talking about the fact that African- American boys cannot read well. I had heard Phil talk about this subject for years and was often turned off by his emphatic passion. But this night was different. I could hear not only his passion but also his plea,” Richardson said.
Jackson’s exuberance for change was sometimes misunderstood.
For instance, when he was CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority, black people accused him of being a “puppet” for the mayor. Some activists and politicians even labeled him an “Uncle Tom” and accused him of being involved in a land grab by private developers.
A less confident person would have withered under the pressure.
But Jackson had a vision of what the black community could become and this particular night Richardson saw that vision, too.
“I wondered how I could have missed this problem with its far-reaching implications for our boys in the future — not being unable to stay abreast in complicated times, being unable to get and hold a job with a livable wage, and being unable to make thoughtful decisions as voters, parents and citizens, “ Richardson explained.
“I realized that sometimes it takes a person hearing the same thing twenty or more times before it can be heard. That night, I heard Phil; I heard him clearly. The last thought Phil shared that night was that the schools could not do this alone; it was going to take the community to help our kids. He asked for every person listening to join with him but if you did not want to join him, join with others to help our children,” she recalled.
The next morning she wrote Jackson and told him she was joining the cause.
“In October 2014, the Adjoin Fund was incorporated to help public school African American middle school boys become more competent readers. Today we are about 225 strong. Members are simply folk…who understand the plight and contribute to the cause,” Richardson said.
“Phillip Jackson will not be remembered as one of the preeminent movers and shakers in Chicago, but trust, his legacy, his concern for our children will live on,” she said.
That’s the power of love.
A visitation service will be held on Friday, Nov. 16 at A.A. Rayner & Sons Funeral Home, 318 E. 71st, between 4-8 p.m. Burial will be private. A memorial service will be held at St. Sabina Church, 78th Place and Throop Street on Tues., Nov. 20 at 11: a.m.