Former Chicago Urban League President Runs for Senate Seat

Initially, Cheryle R. Jackson was flattered that then President-elect Barack Obama had added her to a list of six individuals who he felt were qualified to replace him in the Senate. But she didn’t seriously consider it at first.

As president of the Chicago Urban League (CUL), she had her hands full with the filming of Emmy award-winning NextTV, a reality-styled television show that advises individuals and business owners about economic empowerment. But then she started receiving e-mails and pleas for help at church, by phone and by email from panicked and desperate small business owners, job seekers, and people who were about to foreclose on their homes.

After seeing the devastating effect the economic crisis was having on small business owners, job seekers, and people who were about to lose their homes to foreclosure Jackson, a former aide to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, decided to take a leave of absence from the CUL and run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Roland Burris. Burris, who was appointed by Blagojevich under a cloud of controversy, announced that he would not run for a full term in 2011.

In Jackson’s opinion, the state needed a senator who focused on economic growth and who would be willing to fight for everyday people. None of the other four candidates had that, says Jackson, who was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. She had already demonstrated that her bark had bite when she led the CUL in a civil rights lawsuit against the state of Illinois, the Illinois State Board of Education and the governor’s office for underfunding schools.

Despite having never held public office and being the only woman and minority running for Senate, Jackson, 44, says building her platform on job creation will resonate with the entire state of Illinois and not only the predominantly black South Side. In preparation for the February 2010 primary, Jackson made a stop by the Black Enterprise offices to discuss her platform, the goals of NextTV, and how she plans to change the state with help from small businesses. What was it about Chicago’s economic downslide that caught your attention and prompted you to run for Senate?

Cheryle R. Jackson:
These are the toughest times that I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime. What really got me serious about the race was seeing business owners who saw their lines of credit evaporate over night due to no fault of their own.

One telltale sign that something very unusual was happening occurred when the Chicago Urban League held a job fair for 50 part-time Chicago Transit Authority bus driver positions in January. It was the coldest day of the year and 1,000 people showed up. But what was the most staggering to me was that one quarter of the people that showed up were double-degreed professionals. I knew then that we were chartering new territory; a new kind of crisis that I had not witnessed.