Jeremiah J. Jackson: Director of Equity and Inclusion
Education: University of Miami, Ohio, B.S.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your interest in education.
I was born in Toledo, Ohio and grew up splitting my childhood between Youngstown and Akron. After I graduated from college, I spent 14 years in a city I love—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I initially moved there to be an assistant buyer for Kaufman’s, now Macy’s, and quickly discovered that corporate retail sales was not for me! I decided to follow my passion and re-direct my career by working for organizations that support young people. At Duquesne University I earned my nonprofit business chops by helping develop a one-on-one career mentoring program. We started with four folks in a room looking for a solution to a systemic long-term workforce problem. Six years later, the program was a success with 480 student-mentors serving 19 schools from nine different school districts. I then honed my skills at Leadership Pittsburgh, in the Leadership Development Initiative (LDI) program for high-potential young professionals. Shortly after graduating from LDI, I took a position as Directory of Diversity at Sewickley Academy, a private college preparatory school in Pittsburgh, where I knew I’d found the work for me—diversity and inclusion in education. Looking back at my journey so far, I view my work in education as a spiritual mission and an opportunity to transform the world around me in a positive way. Nelson Mandela said it best: Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
You’ve had mentors that recognized your talents, skills, and passions, and encouraged you to pursue them. Are you thinking about mentorship as you develop the diversity and inclusion program here?
Absolutely. One of the reasons I’m so impressed with College Prep is the clarity of the role the adult community plays as both teachers and mentors. When we model and support young people through a mentoring process, it goes a long way in helping them to be the best people they can be. In my opinion, intelligence and knowledge, balanced with empathy, is a recipe for success. High school was a challenging and difficult time for me, and I still appreciate the caring adults who took the time to be there with me and support me. I’m glad to be able to pay that forward at College Prep; it’s really important.
One of the tenants of our Mission and Philosophy is how essential “embracing the variety of backgrounds and experiences and recognizing the expression of diversity” is to education. What does diversity and inclusion mean to you, and how do you see it reflected at College Prep?
That’s a big question that I think about often. For me, the inclusion piece is most important. I believe that inclusion leads to equity, and eventually justice. The diversity piece is the baseline, where we enter into the work of inclusion. Diversity is a fact of nature—everyone has unique needs, wants, desires, and struggles. Preparing ourselves for the challenge to address the needs of those around us, with compassion and respect, while being aware of our personal lens and biases, is the hallmark of a multicultural education.
Great teachers, like those at College Prep, believe that every student who walks into their classroom can be successful, and they adapt their skills, talents, and knowledge to get the best out of them. They know that the number one predictor of student outcomes in the classroom is teacher expectation. That’s true at Prep, coupled with the close relationship between teachers and students.
My personal goal is to be a good steward of College Prep’s values and mission. I also believe it’s important to have students and faculty that reflect the diversity of Oakland, where we are situated, and the greater Bay Area.
Can you tell us about some of the programs you’re working on?
I’m excited about my first major project, evolving what had been known as International Day. Talking with students, faculty, administration, and parents, it became apparent that International Day served a meaningful purpose we could build on—to support our mission and help foster interconnectedness. We’ve renamed it Connections, Pride, and Spirit Day, a nice play on CPS. Our theme this year will be “Stories of Inspiration.” Students and faculty will create personally meaningful workshops, presentations, or performances to share with the school community as a way to learn more about each other. I think this approach plays to our strengths. As it evolves, my hope is that teachers will extend the conversation to the classroom and that clubs could use the day to showcase their interests. We aim for Connections, Pride, and Spirit Day to inspire us to learn more about one another and our world in a creative, innovative, and inclusive way.
What are some of the ways you’re getting to know College Prep?
Most recently I facilitated a student discussion about the Ferguson shooting. I felt there was an acute need at the time for our students and the feedback has been so positive that I’ve scheduled an ongoing discussion series. I think students need, want, and struggle with having deep philosophical conversations about things that may divide us. I also believe we all have to be proactive about practicing cross-cultural competency skills so that we are prepared to deal with issues that may not be comfortable for us, or rooted in our upbringing and experiences. I’m very proud of our faculty who tackle some of these topics in their classrooms. For example, I had the chance to attend Andrea Tinnemeyer’s Chicano Literature class. Many of the stories they’re reading examine class, race, societal, and gender concerns. Part of my job is to take part in those discussions. As a very new member of the community, it’s affirming to see that we’re already doing a lot of good work. I also look forward to engaging parents, trustees, and faculty as we examine where and how to put our energy, such as taking a look at the Diversity Council’s role in school culture.
One of the great blessings and privileges that we have at College Prep is that we’re building from a position of strength. I’m not coming in as the Director of Diversity and Inclusion because there’s an emergency or a problem. I’m here because we as a school have the prescience and forethought to understand that inclusion as a field may be relatively new and emerging in some ways, but these matters are part of what it means to be human. We are preparing our young people to be leaders who are able to live and work in an increasingly multicultural world. I look forward to getting to know and work with our students during their years at Prep, and helping to establish habits and practices that will help them, as our mission states, grow into adults who are intellectually adventurous, ethically sure-footed, and generous of heart and spirit.