By Frederick H. Lowe
Phillip Jackson, chief of staff for the Chicago Public Schools under Paul Vallas and Gery Chico and chairman and founder of the Black Star Project, died Sunday after a long bout with cancer. He died while in care at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois. Mr. Jackson, who was 68, also suffered from vitiligo, a skin condition that causes loss of pigmentation of the skin in patches on the face and body.
At the Chicago Public Schools, I was founder and editor of Chicago Educator, a 400,000-circulation newspaper published twice weekly. One weekly edition was given to students to give to their parents.
I would sometimes consult with him about what articles Chicago Educator should publish to spark Chicago parents’ interest in the public schools which recently had been taken over by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.
While a CPS employee, Mr. Jackson founded the Black Star Project, which took its name from Black Star Line, a shipping line founded by Marcus Garvey and incorporated by the Universal Negro Improvement Association. The line was created to facilitate the transportation of goods throughout the African diaspora which was an effort similar to that of Mr. Jackson. He urged blacks to spend their dollars in black neighborhoods to build up African-American communities.
After he left CPS, Mr. Jackson was named chief of staff of the Chicago Housing Authority. He also served as Chicago’s Chief for Education and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago.
Although he held many corporate positions, including working as an executive at Kroch and Brentano’s, the former Chicago bookstore chain, I thought one of his greatest ideas and accomplishments was the Million Father March in which fathers were called to accompany their children to the first day of school.
At the first the Million Father March attracted mostly black fathers who were often unfairly slammed by black women and others for not caring about their children. Later, the Million Father March attracted Hispanics and whites. It now operates in 600 cities. Jackson also founded Saturday University, a program which augmented students opportunities to learn and develop competencies.
Mr. Jackson’s idea opened a door to his soul. He told me his father’s name was Phillip but the last I heard from him he had never met him. It was something he wanted to happen.
I worked in the early days with Mr. Jackson on the Black Star Project. I attended Black Star luncheons at a Hyde Park Hotel and panel discussions at a Hyde Park church.
At the luncheons, he invited people like Ivory Toldson, one a small number of black men with a Ph.D. Toldson is a professor of counseling psychology at Howard University, editor of the Journal of Negro Education and president of Quality Education for Minorities.
Toldson and the other invited guests didn’t just lecture, Mr. Jackson held the gathering, so attendees could meet each other and share ideas.
Despite his busy schedule and life, Mr. Jackson was an avid swimmer, swimming almost every night for exercise and recreation.
Mr. Jackson, a Chicago native, was raised in Altgeld Gardens, a housing project on the city’s far South Side. He graduated from Roosevelt University. Mr. Jackson is survived by four sisters.