Services set for Black Star Founder dies after decades of extraordinary service to underprivileged youth
By Keith Chambers
Many adults stop celebrating their birthday in a big way once they hit 55. But two months ago, Phillip Jackson celebrated his 68th birthday. This one was special and important, held at the offices of the Black Star Project. Jackson was dying. This birthday party would be his last one on earth. It turned out to be a grand but bittersweet affair, one that brought tears of joy mixed with pain. Stricken with cancer, Jackson held his head high and smiled amid the pomp and pageantry of African drummers announcing his entrance into his party.
On Sunday, November 4, Jackson’s pain and suffering finally ended. Surrounded by family and friends, he died at Lutheran General Hospital in northwest suburban Park Ridge. A mentor to some but a hero to many more, Jackson’s life may be over, but the organization he founded will keep his legacy alive for years to come.
A notice of Jackson’s death was posted on the Black Star Project’s website later that evening. It’s right next to Jackson’s birthday party invitation that was never taken down after 43 days had quickly gone by. But as the days and years go by Jackson’s life will never get old.
At many Chicago institutions, he was a top executive who never forgot his humble roots. Jackson dedicated his life to educating thousands of poor urban children in Chicago. Until his death, Jackson continued to take on larger and more challenging projects. His life was a true testament that hard work, perseverance and dedication could achieve the impossible.
“He had integrity. That’s somethings that stood out,” said Gloria Smith, Jackson’s sister, who serves as executive director of the Black Star Project. “His passion was his work. His legacy was the Black Star Project. He wants the board and the staff to keep his work going. That’s what we plan to do.”
The Reverend Jesse Jackson said on Twitter, “Phillip Jackson was a bright black star, who gave his all to educating the children of Chicago.”
“We have lost a great and passionate warrior,” the Reverend Michael Pfleger said on Facebook. “Phillip was not one of those pop-up folks who came for a minute and then disappeared. Phillip was a consistent voice for change and justice who spent his life demanding better for our children and was willing to pay the price it cost him.”
Born in public housing in Chicago, Jackson attended 11 Chicago public schools with varying levels of success. He graduated from Roosevelt University and studied education at the National College of Education.
Jackson founded the Black Star Project in 1996 to provide educational services that improve the lives of less advantaged Black communities and to close the racial academic achievement gap. TBSP accomplishes its mission by educating, organizing and mobilizing parents and volunteers, and working with community partners to facilitate a wide variety of solid programs, high-visibility campaigns and other special initiatives.
In a fitting tribute at the Chicago Crusader’s 25th Anniversary Heroes the Hood ceremony last May, Jackson was honored for decades of community activism as a crusader who just won’t quit. While Black America cooled after the arrest of two Black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks, Jackson turned up the heat on the coffee house chain. On this issue, he presented an open letter that keeps Starbucks under the national spotlight as it continues to develop its image as an inclusive company that respects customers of all colors. But Jackson wanted to make sure their word is good to the last drop.
Some of the Black Star Project’s signature initiatives include the national annual Million Father March that organized about one million fathers in more than 600 cities to take their children to school on the first school day; Saturday University—a system of free community-based learning centers designed to remediate and augment K-12 students’ skills in reading, writing and math with the support of parents,communities, and an army of volunteers.
The Student Motivation and Mentoring Program, designed to motivate youth to succeed in life, has facilitated interactive whole-classroom sessions with more than 375,000 students in 260 Chicago-area schools; Destination College helps prepare 7th- through 12th-grade students for college success; Jackson also developed a host of parent engagement initiatives.
Most recently, the Black Star Project has shifted its focus to “All Things Economic.” Financial literacy programs, an economic empowerment series, as well as Circulate Black Dollars in the Black Community, and Becoming the Next Black Millionaire are some of the initiatives recently undertaken. His sister, Gloria Smith, and other committed staff continue the legacy of the Black Star Project.
During his career Mr. Jackson was at varying times, Vice President and Director of Operations for one of Chicago’s oldest and largest chain of booksellers; President of EF/MS, a family-run business; Assistant Budget Director for the City of Chicago; Chief of Staff for Chicago Public Schools; Chief Executive Officer for the Chicago Housing Authority; Chief of Education for the City of Chicago; CEO for Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago.
At the time of his death, he was founder and chairperson of the Black Star Project, which was designed to help children and students realize their educational and life potential.
During his 24-year career with Chicago’s oldest bookstore chain, he climbed to the position of Senior Vice President of Operations. He helped build and manage the company but parted ways with the other executives when they turned on the employees, denying them their hard earned pensions. Motivated by these injustices Phillip led, financed and won a class action lawsuit that restored pensions to wrongfully terminated employees.
After leaving Kroch’s & Brentano’s, he worked in the Office of Budget and Management for the City of Chicago and became Assistant Budget Director within six months. In the Budget Office, he led the
Quick-Pay task force that took action to make sure that all vendors (especially minority owned enterprises) doing business with the City of Chicago were paid in a timely and proper fashion.
In 1995, he joined the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) transition team with Paul Vallas. During his five-year tenure he served as Deputy Chief of Staff, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, and Chief of Staff. Jackson helped CPS achieve the highest number of contracts in Chicago history.
In 1999, Jackson became the CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). During his dynamic stewardship of the CHA, Jackson negotiated a $1.6 billion deal with the federal government to transform public housing in Chicago with a focus on residents’ quality of life, not just the bricks and mortar.