She has earned a name for herself within the Black community in Chicago but Cheryle Jackson, 44, wants all of Illinois to know who she is and what she stands for. As the current president of the Chicago Urban League, Jackson has made great strides in revitalizing the city's schools and neighborhoods through economic development programs. Now she's ready to take on somewhat unchartered territories by running for the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.
Her competition has already racked up several union endorsements. Whispers are circulating that current Senator Roland Burris might change his mind and seek re-election and Jesse Jackson Jr.'s name has been thrown into the ring, but the race is still early. Jackson has a unique strategy in play that she believes will get those who know her to vote on her behalf and those who don't, to see what she can bring to the table. Jackson spoke to ESSENCE.com about her decision to make the move into politics, the repercussions of her connection to former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and what advice she's taking from President Obama.
ESSENCE.COM: You've been very successful at the Urban League. Why are you jumping into politics?
CHERYLE JACKSON: For the very same reason why I went to work for the Urban League and not into corporate America. When you're eyes become open to a problem, you have a choice. You can turn your back, and keep moving or you can choose to do something about it. My eyes became open that there is no plan in the federal, state or local level to develop economic opportunities in communities where few have existed before in Illinois. A lot of the focus has historically been around social services as a way to address these problems but all they create are safety nets.
ESSENCE.COM: Can you give us an example of what you mean?
JACKSON: Typical social welfare programs like WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) are there to help those who deserve and need it. But you can't get to a pathway without an economic plan to empower people with tools that will allow them to successfully sustain themselves. At the Chicago [href="http://www.essence.com/news_entertainment/news/articles/children_are_dying_in_chicago/"] is a direct correlation to undereducated young people who drop out, have no skills, no jobs and the only industry hiring is the drug industry. The Chicago Urban is looking at a program started by Newark Mayor Corey Booker where we would start a fund for rewarding crime stopping tips. The other goal would be to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind legislation to address high school drop outs so we're not only reenrolling them but developing curriculum that will put them on the path to work.
ESSENCE.COM: There's been a lot of talk about this Senate seat since last year when former Governor Blogovitch was accused of trying to sell it to the highest bidder. How do you plan to keep the focus on you as a candidate rather than on the controversy surrounding the position itself?
JACKSON: My focus is on real people's problems. At the beginning the day and end of the day, politics, no matter how juicy, doesn't put food on the table, pay your mortgage or put your child through college. I'm going to take a page from President Obama's campaign and say let's not be districted by politics.
ESSENCE.COM: Let's talk about that. Do you have a personal relationship with the President?
JACKSON: Yes, [href="http://www.essence.com/news_entertainment/news/articles/chicago_urban_league_president_enters_race_for_us_senate/"]. I have to raise money the old-fashioned way and fundraise, but we learned with the presidential campaign that a little money goes a long way. So we're launching the "Jackson Five" team where folks can contribute any amount they can for five months. That way, people can really say they had a hand in putting me in office.