TheGrio's 100: John Jackson, bridging education's racial divide

TheGrio's 100 - John Jackson was twelve years old when he moved from Chicago to the suburbs and saw a difference not only in his environment, but in his education...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

John Jackson was twelve years old when he moved from Chicago’s Southside to the suburbs. He saw a difference not only in his environment, but in his education.

“That’s where I really began to see the educational disparity in the public school systems,” says Jackson, 37.

After earning a B.A. in political science from Xavier University, Jackson obtained a joint degree in law and education from the University of Illinois. He later received his Master’s and Doctorate in education at Harvard University, where his research largely included studies on racial disparities in schools.

“I always wanted to be an attorney. I saw the link between law and providing all students with high quality education, regardless of race or gender.”

In 1999, President Bill Clinton appointed Jackson to serve as Senior Policy Advisor in the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The following year, Jackson became National Director of Education for the NAACP, where he issued a “National Call for Action in Education” – asking U.S. governors to develop a five-year plan to address the racial disparity in their education systems. The initiative resulted in reduced class sizes in Florida, which had the largest in the nation, and a 50 percent reduction in the achievement gap (in all but two areas) in every school district in Maryland.

In 2007, Jackson became President and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education – an organization that works to improve public education in New York and Massachusetts. He quickly launched the “Opportunity to Learn” campaign — a five-year, $45 million initiative aimed at addressing the resource disparities in education and ensuring resource accountability on state and federal government levels.

“What we’re saying is, yes, governors and legislators must also be accountable to provide resources for teachers to teach, and students to learn.”

For Jackson, the initiative is just another step toward fulfilling his mission to give all kids a high quality education – no matter where they live.