Reverend Jesse Jackson celebrated his 80th birthday for two days last week and received special offerings and gifts from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt, Dr. Vijay G. Prabhakar, and students from Africa and Puerto Rico. He received numerous pledges of support, including a huge presence of Chicago’s West Side ministers, live at the historic Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters.
Friday and Saturday’s events were decorated in gold and purple balloons, the colors of Jackson’s Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. At Friday’s clergy luncheon, scores of ministers, many from the West Side, celebrated Jackson’s actual birthday on October 8, where Reverend Dr. Otis Moss, III, served as Master of Ceremonies.
Friday, Father Michael Pfleger led a prayer for Jackson thanking God for the life of Jackson and for his “consistency in a day when there are so many pop-up activists. Thank you for your tenacity to hold on to justice like a Pitbull and would not let it go until it rolls down like a river. Thank you for his determination…his faithfulness… his willingness to bear your cross, God.
“Thank you for his willingness to be a consistent preacher and good news and hope when hopelessness and bad news overwhelm us. Thank you, God, for his faith in You that You have been his strength and rock. You have been able to keep him all these years,” Pfleger prayed.
Other ministers like West Side Pastor Ira Acree, South Side Elder Kevin Anthony Ford, Bishop Tavis Grant, Reverend Galen Leverette, Reverend J.D. Anderson and Reverend James Meeks also acknowledged the miracle of Jackson and his wife, Dr. Jacqueline Jackson, overcoming COVID-19 and how Jackson had to learn how to walk and talk after his post-COVID-19 treatment and Parkinson’s rehabilitation therapy sessions.
Discharged after his wife was released from Northwestern Hospital, Jackson came directly to the RPC headquarters to work on fighting for Haitian rights. Like his mentor Dr. King, Jackson, a two-time presidential candidate, is constantly looking for the next civil rights issue, always thinking of how it will impact the poor and how he can improve their plight.
Jackson spoke about one of his biggest victories so far this year—that of taking on the controversial Concordia Place Apartments where hundreds of mothers were living in apartments infested with roaches, mold and mice so bad some of the mothers slept in their cars at night with their children for fear of mice getting into their beds.
The anti-family management rules were so oppressive the tenants reached out to Jackson for help. They could not use the laundromat on the weekends; the children’s large playground was padlocked; though legally compliant, their cars were often towed costing them $200 to retrieve them. They could not barbecue, and their grills were illegally confiscated. Some janitors had access to their apartments and often let themselves in unannounced, asking the mothers how much they charged for sex.
After Jackson, and Bishop Tavis Grant, national field director for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition; and its national youth director, Reverend Cameron Barnes, intervened, all of those taboos were changed.
Jackson negotiated a Tenant Housing Agreement with the private owners of the complex, the New York-based Capital Realty Group.
After several rounds of negotiations, the owners agreed to rehab all 297 units of the complex including replacing appliances. Jackson’s goal is to make the Concordia Place Apartments a national role model of similarly private developments funded by HUD.
At Jackson’s request, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge came to the complex and said, “Since Concordia, we have found a lot of “Concordia Places” across the nation.” She promised more funding for the Chicago area Concordia Place Apartments.
Though still suffering from Parkinson’s and recovering from an earlier gall bladder surgery, Jackson was arrested several times protesting the Senate’s refusal to pass the “For The People Act of 2021 (H.R.1/S.1),” “The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 (H.R.4)” and “The Washington, D.C., Admission Act of 2021 (H.R. 51/S.51).”
Another major accomplishment mentioned was the awarding of France’s highest Legion of Honour award by French President Emmanuel Macron. At Saturday’s birthday celebration on October 9, many of Jackson’s accomplishments were mentioned especially by his son, Jonathan Jackson, and Mayor Lightfoot who praised him for paving the way for others who were elected, including herself.
The day before Jackson’s birthday, he held a press conference outside Simeon High School where two students were killed, to speak out against the violence and the importance of not allowing the community to become a haven for killers. “Speak up,” he said urging the junior and senior students.
During Saturday’s celebration, where NBC5’s Art Norman and Felicia Lawrence, most associated with WCIU, were Masters of Ceremonies, the RPC Choir fired up the celebration with a medley of lively gospel songs. Santita Jackson, the daughter of Jackson, sang, as did young vocalist Mae Ya Carter Ryan.
Chicago Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt and at least a dozen of her firemen presented Jackson with a fire chief’s hat and picture. They thanked him for intervening in the 1980 Chicago Firefighters strike where for the first time firemen had walked off the job after being denied a written contract rather than the traditional handshake deal.
After 27 people died in fires that occurred under Mayor Jane Byrne’s administration, Jackson successfully got both sides back to the negotiation table and ultimately bargained a truce. Commissioner Nance-Holt and retired Fire Department Captain James Winbush thanked Jackson for his intervention that ended the stalemate and saved lives.
Congressman Bobby L. Rush (D-1st) thanked Jackson for saving his life after State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan and the Chicago police raided the apartment of Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark killing the two while they were asleep. Rush was not there, and the hunt for the Black Panthers [Rush] was on. Rush ultimately turned himself into Jackson who gave him cover from police abuse.
Other elected officials and organizational leaders were also present to offer good wishes to Jackson, as were students from the McCormick Seminary who were from Africa and Puerto Rico. The young adults told of how Jackson inspired their careers. Reverend Dr. S. Todd Yeary, vice president of the RPC; the PUSH Excel orators; and many others also gave tributes.
When asked by the Chicago Crusader what he wanted for his birthday, Jackson said, “All I want to do is to serve,” while enumerating a list of social justice issues that need to be addressed.
Jackson said he hopes that everyone takes out a Rainbow PUSH Coalition membership, which costs $35 for adults and $15 for students and seniors. They can purchase a membership by clicking on www.rainbowpush.org. “This is the fuel that keeps the Rainbow PUSH Coalition going,” he said.