McCabe, Jewell Jackson 1945—
Jewell Jackson McCabe 1945—
Chairperson of National Coalition of 100 Black Women
New York City businesswoman Jewell Jackson McCabe has spent her entire adult life trying to advance the interests of her race and gender. McCabe is chairperson of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, a nonprofit group that provides education and mentoring services to underprivileged women, serves as a support system for successful black women, and carries on lobbying and public relations work on women’s issues. “I consider myself a leader for all women,” McCabe told the Chicago Tribune, and indeed, her leadership abilities have been formidable. From its modest origins in New York City, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women has grown into a body of more than 7,000 members with 62 chapters and an annual operating budget of $125,000.
McCabe’s work on behalf of black women has not gone unnoticed. In 1993 she was a finalist for the executive directorship of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), one of the first black women to be considered for that important post. Ebony magazine has profiled McCabe not only from a professional perspective but also a private one, highlighting her fitness regimen and her glamorous but busy lifestyle. “McCabe has become such a major player on Gotham’s exclusive, highly competitive scene that her photograph has begun appearing on the social pages of the New York Times,” John Robinson noted in the Boston Globe. “The hallmarks of McCabe’s style are glamour, clout, commitment and unflinching determination to empower women of color and [their] communities.”
Jewell Jackson was born in Washington, DC in 1945, the daughter of Harold “Hal” B. Jackson and Julia Hawkins Jackson. Hal Jackson was a pioneer in the broadcasting industry whose work in radio and television eventually took the family to New York City. Other members of the extended family were trailblazers as well. Jewell’s aunt was the first black graduate of the prestigious Boston Conservatory of Music, and her mother was active in a variety of social organizations. The Jackson household was a prosperous one, but as McCabe recalled in the Chicago Tribune, she was encouraged to work hard and take nothing for granted. Her father, she stated,
At a Glance…
Born August 2, 1945, in Washington, DC; daughter of Hal (a radio broadcaster) and Julia (a businesswoman) Jackson; married Frederick Ward (divorced); married Eugene McCabe (divorced). Education: Attended Bard College, 1963–66.
New York Urban Coalition, New York City, director of public affairs, 1970–73; Special Services for Children, New York City, public relations officer, 1973–75; Office of the Governor, Women’s Division, New York City, associate director for public information, 1975–77; WNET-TV, New York City, director of government and community affairs, 1977–82; National Coalition of 100 Black Women, president, 1977–91, chairman of the board, 1991—. President, Jewell Jackson McCabe Associates, New York City.
Selected awards Eastern Region Urban League Guild Award, 1979; Seagrams Civic Award, 1980; Links Civic Award, 1980; outstanding community leadership award, Malcolm/King College, 1980.
Member: New York Urban League, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, New York City Planned Parenthood, New York City Commission on the Status of Women.
Addresses: Office —National Coalition of 100 Black Women, 300 Park Ave., 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10022.
once placed a copy of the New York Times in front of her, saying, “Until you see black people on the front page of this paper, we will not be free.”
As a youngster, Jackson was drawn to the performing arts, especially dance. She studied classical ballet and jazz, eventually winning admission to New York City’s High School of the Performing Arts. After graduation, she continued her dance studies at Bard College from 1961 until 1963. At age 19 she married Frederick Ward, an advertising copywriter. The marriage ended in divorce. Later she married Eugene McCabe, president of North General Hospital in New York City. That marriage also ended in divorce. Jackson nonetheless remains on friendly terms with both men.
Even before she entered the professional arena, McCabe demonstrated her commitment to underprivileged youth. She used her dance skills to participate in an inner-city program that sought to curb antisocial behavior by exposing teens to culture and the arts. She was also a dance instructor in a program for troubled girls.
Jewell Jackson McCabe entered the executive ranks in 1970 when she became director of public affairs for the New York Urban Coalition. At approximately the same time she became a member of a small new organization founded by her mother, the New York Coalition of 100 Black Women. The group, with just two dozen members on its first roster, was based on a similarly named men’s organization and was dedicated to providing support and encouragement to black female entrepreneurs. The first goal was to find 100 black businesswomen in the New York metropolitan area who would be willing to join and help administer the group. That was accomplished by the mid-1970s.
In the meantime, McCabe was continuing to further her own professional career. As Cathy Madison observed in the Chicago Tribune, McCabe’s “outgoing personality and intuition made her a natural publicist.” In 1973 she became public relations officer for New York City’s Special Services for Children and found herself promoting exactly the kind of programs she had participated in as a volunteer. She left that post in 1975 for an assignment as associate public information director with the statewide Women’s Division of the Office of the Governor. This experience in turn led to a job with WNET-TV, New York’s public broadcasting station, where she worked as director of government and community affairs between 1977 and 1982.
Energetic and committed to improving both her local community and the lot of black women in a larger arena, McCabe was not satisfied with a mere nine-to-five job. She served on numerous advisory boards and affiliated herself with organizations as diverse as the United Way, the NAACP, the United Hospital Fund, and the Association for a Better New York. Somehow she found time to produce two monthly newsletters, Give a Damn, published by the New York Urban Coalition between 1970 and 1973, and Women in New York, a state publication from 1975 until 1977. Recognition for McCabe’s work as a volunteer began as early as 1980, when she served as deputy grand marshal of the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. parade in New York City. She also received citations from the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and Malcolm/King College.
McCabe never felt that her accomplishments were extraordinary. “I think, quite candidly, being a superwoman is an impossibility for any human being,” she remarked in Ebony. “I get great enjoyment from diversity. I have a stubbornness. I reject being pigeonholed or boxed into any category. If you reject that, then you’ve got to be able to move in different sets…. That means you’ve got to work hard because you’ve got to know about a lot of things.”
In 1978 McCabe assumed the presidency of the organization her mother had started and pledged to take it to a national level. By 1981 she had organized the National Coalition of 100 Black Women into chapters in some 22 states. From the outset the group had many diverse goals. Its membership included prominent professionals and community leaders, bound together for mutual support and encouragement. Among those who joined the coalition were such well-known black women as poet Maya Angelou, Spelman College president Johnetta Cole, Arthenia Joyner, the former president of the National Bar Association, and Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, the first black Congresswoman from California.
Once established, the group began to work on community issues affecting women. Programs have included mentoring services for disadvantaged minority women, especially teen mothers; co-sponsorship of Time to Read, a middle school literacy program; political activism on reproductive rights issues and reproductive rights education; and the Literacy and Life Skills Development Program, aimed at helping young adults prepare to enter the working world. Each year the group presents ten Candace (pronounced “Can–day–say”) Awards to black women who have made important strides in the arts, science, technology, and business. The award is named after the Ethiopian term for “queen,” and recipients have included opera singer Kathleen Battle and philanthropist Camille Cosby.
McCabe served as president of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women from 1981 until 1991. She then stepped down but remains an important figure in the organization as its chairman of the board. McCabe contended in the Chicago Tribune that her organization is a natural outgrowth of a supportive network among black women that has existed for generations. “We called it a grapevine. It’s been going on since slavery, since the days of the Underground Railroad,” she said. Nevertheless, she observed in Ebony that the National Coalition of 100 Black Women is also a forum for the contemporary black woman who seeks professional and political clout. “I think we are different from the women of the ’60s,” she explained. “We don’t feel guilty about being accomplished. In this country, there are older women who come up to you and say, ’You are what we were working so long to create. What you young women are doing is what we always wanted to do.’ Obviously there is a dimension of growth, progress … I think that is the newness. It’s an attitude.”
In 1993 McCabe was a finalist for the position of executive director of the NAACP. McCabe was interviewed by the NAACP’s board of directors but was not chosen for the job. Later, to quote Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Claude Lewis, McCabe “asserted … that the NAACP’s male-dominated board was unwilling to consider seriously a female applicant to head the powerful organization.” Her outspokenness on the issue was one of a series of complaints of discrimination based on sex leveled at the NAACP in recent years. McCabe’s weighing in on this issue undoubtedly played a part in the 1995 election of Myrlie Evers Williams as chairwoman of the group’s board of directors.
Over the years McCabe has held several gubernatorial appointments in the state of New York. Perhaps the most important of these was chairmanship of the $205-million, 46-member Jobs Training Partnership Council, a program that provides education and skills training to some 50,000 people in New York every year. McCabe has also served on the New York State Council on Fiscal and Economic Priorities, the Tax Reform Committee, and the New York State Council on Families, where she was assigned to the Committee on Teen Pregnancy Prevention. In addition to these state affiliations, she has served on the advisory boards of a number of private nonprofit and for-profit corporations, including the Economic Club of New York and the National Alliance of Business.
McCabe is also president of Jewell Jackson McCabe Associates, a New York City consulting firm that advises on government relations, marketing to minorities, and special issues and events. McCabe told Fortune that she wants to “establish a common ground between the public and private sectors.” Her client list includes Panasonic, American Express, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, and the Associated Black Charities.
Despite her disclaimers about not being a “superwoman,” McCabe can hardly be described as an ordinary individual. Her working days often begin at 5:30 in the morning and last until midnight. She travels across the nation on behalf of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women and is a presence on the New York social scene. She has received two honorary doctorates and a number of other awards for the accomplishments she has reaped from her “enjoyment of diversity.”
Though McCabe has an extremely busy schedule, she still finds time most days to dance or do aerobic exercise. Asked to describe the motivating force behind her almost nonstop activity, McCabe commented in the Chicago Tribune, “I’ve always been attracted to power, and I’m excruciatingly competitive. Even if it’s cupcake-making. I want to make the best cupcakes.” She concluded, “I grew up wanting to be the best at everything, or assuming I was.”
Lanker, Brian, I Dream a World, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1989, pp. 82–83.
Notable Black American Women, edited by Jessie Carney Smith, Gale, 1990, p. 693–94.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution, March 23, 1993, p. 13D.
Boston Globe, March 19, 1992, p. 79.
Chicago Tribune, January 10, 1993, p. 9.
Ebony, February 1984, pp. 43–50; September 1988, pp. 52–55; July 1993, pp. 68–71.
Fortune, August 17, 1987, p. 93.
Newsweek, September 5, 1994, p. 36.
New York Times, June 3, 1979, p. 56.
Philadelphia Inquirer, April 3, 1995, p. 9A.
—Anne Janette Johnson
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