Jackson, Judith D.

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Judith D. Jackson


Social worker, service organization administrator

Inspired by her parents' daily example of hard work and volunteerism, Judith D. Jackson chose to dedicate her career to social service. Jackson has participated in the development of several important social service programs. Through her work with the National Association of Black Social Workers, she has worked to build black community and improve the lives of all African Americans. And her service at such organizations as the Children's Aid Society, Franklin Wright Settlement, and the Detroit Youth Foundation has concentrated on strengthening families and especially the lives of children.

Learned Service at Home

Judith Dianne Jackson was born in the small Indiana town of Marion on July 1, 1950. Her father Clayton R. Jackson worked as a nurse's aide and physical therapist at the local Veteran's Administration hospital, where her mother Amy also worked as a baker. Jackson's family had been part of Indiana's thriving black population for generations, and her parents were active members of the community. Her father retired from his job at age sixty-two and devoted his later years to a variety of civic activities, such as joining the boards of the public library and the local Urban League. Her mother also eventually left her baking job to work for the Purdue University extension program, going into the community to teach home management skills, a job which her daughter would refer to as "social work without the degree."

Though Marion was not strictly segregated, young Judith and her brother and sister grew up in largely African American working-class communities. Her family was not wealthy, and her father sometimes worked two jobs to support them. However, the Jack-sons always had the necessities of life, and Judith felt safe and secure in the nurturing environment of her home. She liked school, and was strongly influenced by her parents' expectations that she would do well. Because she enjoyed French, she joined the French club and went on a summer trip to Switzerland to study the language. She was also selected for membership in the National Honor Society.

During her junior year in high school, Jackson participated in a summer leadership program called Girls State, where students elect representatives to a mock legislature in order to learn about citizenship and government. Jackson was elected Superintendent of Education, a position that required her to give her first speech before a large crowd. Though she was nervous, her father's supportive presence in the audience gave her courage, as his support in her life would give her courage throughout her career.

Because she was raised in a protected environment, it was not until she was in high school that Jackson began to experience the effects of racism. There, she saw most black students being steered away from academic study towards the vocational track, where they were taught lower level courses and shop classes to prepare them for working class jobs. Jackson's parents had higher ambitions for their children, however, and worked to make sure they enrolled in the high-level academic classes which would prepare them for college.

Began to Study Social Work

Though neither Amy nor Clayton Jackson had had the opportunity to graduate from college, they expected all of their children to continue their education and obtain college degrees. Judith Jackson attended Indiana University, where she earned her bachelor's degree in sociology in 1972. In addition to her studies, she was also active in her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, becoming president of her local chapter. One of her sorority sisters was Pearlie Evans, a dynamic social worker and political activist who became an important influence on Jackson's career. Evans lived in St. Louis and worked in the district office of Representative Bill Clay, who in 1968 had become the first African American elected to Congress from the state of Missouri. She not only inspired Jackson to seek a leadership position within AKA, but to continue her education by entering graduate school. Jackson followed Evans' advice and entered the prestigious school of social work at Washington University in St. Louis.

Jackson had become somewhat politically active during high school, working on the presidential campaign of Democrat Eugene McCarthy, and she did her internship for her master's degree working in Congressman Clay's office in St. Louis. There she learned about the ways that political policy can affect social programs. Throughout her graduate school career, she continued her political activity, working on the campaign of John Bass, the first elected comptroller of the state of Missouri, among other projects.

Upon receiving her master's degree in social work policy and planning, and community organizing in 1974, Jackson became the first African American MSW to be hired at Lutheran Social Services. During the two years she worked there, she conducted therapy groups and helped develop a diversion program to help first-time offenders find alternatives to jail time for small crimes.

Worked in Private and Public Agencies

In 1976, Jackson moved to New York City and got a job with the Children's Aid Society there. Working under a federal grant, Jackson helped develop a program to reunite families who had been forced to place children in foster care because of social and economic difficulties. However, Children's Aid received much of its funding from the state based on the number children in foster care. Therefore, the organization did not offer much support for Jackson's program, which had the goal of removing children from foster care and placing them back with their families. In 1976, she left Children's Aid to take a job with the State of New York Department of Mental Hygiene.

For the next four years, Jackson worked with develop-mentally disabled clients, developing community residence programs and group homes in order to improve the lives of the developmentally disabled and change public attitudes about developmental disabilities (formerly called retardation). She rose quickly in the organization, starting as an intake worker, evaluating clients and deciding what kind of treatment and services they needed, and was soon promoted to supervisor. However, she found that she did not enjoy working for a large state bureaucracy; in 1980, she moved to Detroit to take a job with Family and Neighborhood Services, a social work organization in Wayne County, Michigan.

At a Glance …

Born Judith Dianne Jackson on July 1, 1950, in Marion, IN; married Emerson DeVon Jackson, 1992; children: Evan Clayton. Education: Indiana University, AB, sociology, 1972; Washington University, MSW, social work, policy and planning, and community organizing, 1974. Religion: Plymouth United Church of Christ.

Career: Lutheran Social Services, social worker and therapist, 1974–75; Children's Aid Society, social worker, 1975–76; New York State Department of Mental Hygiene, social worker, supervisor, 1976–80; Family and Neighborhood Services of Wayne County, Michigan, social worker, 1980–81; Franklin Wright Settlements, deputy director, 1982–90, executive director, 1990–99; Detroit Youth Foundation, vice president, chief operating officer, 1999–.

Selected memberships: National Association of Black Social Workers, president, 2002–6; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority; Plymouth Educational Charter School, board member; Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, board member; Governor's State Advisory Task Force on Family Preservation.

Addresses: Office—Detroit Youth Foundation, 7375 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan 48202; National Association of Black Social Workers, 2305 Martin Luther King Avenue, Washington, D. C. 20020.

While working at Family and Neighborhood Services, she met Dr. Gerald K. Smith, an educator and social worker who had spent many years developing youth programs. Smith had been deputy director of Family and Neighborhood Services, but he left the organization just as Jackson joined it. However they were both active members of the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) and got to know each other through that organization.

Became Director of Michigan's Oldest Settlement

Smith was director of Detroit's Franklin Wright Settlement. The settlement house movement began during the late 1800s and was one of the first progressive social work programs. Social workers worked and often lived in the houses, where they not only offered support services to the most vulnerable members of society, but also worked for reform to improve conditions for poor working people. Franklin Wright Settlement, the oldest settlement house in the state of Michigan, continues to provide a wide variety of services to the community. In 1982, Smith hired Jackson as deputy director of Franklin Wright Settlement. She worked there for more than ten years, becoming executive director in 1990. The Settlement, like Jackson's earlier work with Children's Aid, places great importance on offering support to keep families together.

In 1999, Gerald K. Smith began to organize a new youth project, and he asked Judith Jackson to work there as his vice-president. An outgrowth of a project first started by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Detroit Youth Foundation aimed to mobilize community support in order to encourage the development of young people. Rather than only focusing on preventing or solving the problems of the young, Detroit Youth hoped to promote positive values, such as education and leadership. Under Smith and Jackson's leadership, the program has opened a building called Youthville Detroit, filled with activities for young people. As well as recreational opportunities, Youthville also offers supportive organizations and opportunities to learn a wide variety of skills young people can use to improve their lives, from organizing and grant-writing to technology.

Along with her ongoing social service work at Detroit Youth, Jackson has continued to be involved with the National Association of Black Social Workers, becoming president of the organization from 2002 through 2006. During her tenure, she continued the group's mission of working to make a difference within the African American community, not only as social workers, but as members of the community working for the liberation of black people. Under Jackson's administration, NABSW bought a small house in Washington, D.C., setting up its office in the nation's capitol in order to work more effectively to influence public policy.

Though she has been central in improving the lives of thousands over the course of her career, Jackson's most cherished work is within her own family, and the accomplishment that gives her the most pride is the growth and development of her own son, Evan Clayton Jackson.



Detroit Youth Foundation, www.detroityouth.org (May 9, 2006).

National Association of Black Social Workers. www.nabsw.org (May 9, 2006).

"Judith D. Jackson." Washington University Magazine, http://magazine.wustl.edu/Winter00/class-mates.html (May 9, 2006).

Trujillo, Renee. "Social Workers From Black America Promote Welfare, Survival in Belize." Reporter, www.reporter.bz/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=524&Itemid=2 (May 9, 2006).


Information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Judith D. Jackson on May 12, 2006.

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