Judith Dianne Jackson, affectionately known as Judy, was born July 1, 1950 to the union of Clayton R. and Amy Pettiford Jackson in Marion, Indiana. She was the youngest of three children. She and her siblings - Ronald Lemoine and Brenda Pauline, grew up in a loving, nurturing environment.
Her father 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 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”.
Judy 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, Judy participated in a summer leadership program called Girls State. In this program 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.
Judy graduated from Marion High School in 1968 and went on to attend Indiana University in Bloomington, where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology in 1972. In addition to her studies, she joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, and become Chapter President in senior her year. While at Indiana University, Judy made many friends that would become so for life. One of those very special friends is Sharon Hayes-Roby. Below Sharon shares some special moments that she shared with Judy:
Judy and I met at Indiana University (Bloomington, IN) as pledges to Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Tau chapter. As pledges we bonded forming a friendship that lasted for 46 years. I have so many fond memories of our college adventures as Tau’s Tantalizing Ten. One that stands out the most was one of our many college road trips crammed into Judy’s old dodge. We were scheduled to sing at the regional conference in Chicago. Of course for the one time we were early, we were way too early to check into our hotel. So in our attempt to find somewhere cheap to stay in the middle of the night, we got a room in the sketchy area of Chicago. We all piled into one room to stay together until the manager found out we were way over capacity. The manager got upset and called the police on us! Fortunately God was looking out for us and the kind police officer kept us safe at the police station until we could get to our destination.
We went on to graduation and careers that separated us in distance but not love. As destiny would have it three of us ended up back together in the same city, (Detroit) in the 1970s. We reconnected and (Judy, Julie and Shay) remained close through the years, enjoying road trips, lunch and dinner dates, game nights, especially scrabble and of course shopping. We have been there to support one another through the years.
Judy was always committed to family, making sure that all knew of her support to achieve their highest potential. I could not have asked for a better God mother to my daughters Porsha & Michelle. Judy has always been more than a sister to me she was my rock, confidante, and best friend whom I miss every day.
Judy later entered the prestigious School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Judy earned her Master’s Degree in Social Work, Policy and Planning, and Community Organizing in 1974. While at Washington University, Judy met 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.
This was not Judy’s first encounter with the political community. She had become 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.
Judy was well respected in the field of Social Work and Community Development, and held several leadership positions along the way. Upon receiving her Master’s Degree, she began her career with Lutheran Social Services in St. Louis, Missouri as a Social Worker and Therapist. She was the first African-American MSW to be hired at Lutheran Social Services. In 1976, Judy relocated to New York City where she began working with the Children’s Aid Society. During her brief stint, she helped to develop a program to reunite families that had been forced to place children in foster care due to social and economic difficulties. Later in 1976, she went to work for the State of New York Department of Mental Hygiene where she was quickly promoted to Supervisor. Her primary focus was to improve the lives of the developmentally disabled and to also change attitudes about developmental disabilities. Judy soon discovered that her interest was not in the large state institutions but rather more family and community based.
In 1980, she moved to Detroit to work with Family and Neighborhood Services, a social work organization in Wayne County, Michigan. While there, she met Dr. Gerald K. Smith who would become a dear personal friend and professional partner throughout the rest of her career. In 1982, she went to work for Gerald as the Deputy Director of Franklin-Wright Settlements, Inc. Judy became the first female Executive Director at Franklin-Wright in 1990. She worked there for more than 18 years driving the concept of self-help for the continuous improvement and preservation of the family. While at Franklin-Wright, her good work did not go unnoticed by Carol Goss, one of her professional associates.
According to Carol:
Judy was so much more than a friend. She was always there when you needed her to be. A truly authentic person who would not only give you advice but support. I remember long discussions about children - both our own children, but also the children where we both worked so hard to improve their lives. I remember a story Judy once shared about two girls who came to Franklin-Wright every day after school. After a few days in late fall it was clear the girls were sharing a coat. One wore it one day and one the next day. Judy declared this could not happen and was determined to make sure they each had their own coat and she did. Her commitment to creating change for children in black and poor communities is unparalleled. I have always admired this.
In 1999, Gerald recruited Judy to serve as Vice President and Chief Operation Officer of the Detroit Youth Foundation - a new youth project designed to not only help to prevent or solve problems of youth but would also promote positive values such as education and leadership. Later, along with Gerald she cofounded Youthville Detroit. This program would later open a building to be known as YouthVille Detroit with recreational and educational opportunities along with supportive organizations as well. In 2008, she went on to serve as President and Chief Executive Officer of YouthVille until its closing in 2014.
Judy was active in a number of civic and professional organizations. She was elected as the first female president of the National Association of Black Social Workers, Inc. (NABSW) for the 2002-2006 term. Under her administration, NABSW purchased a new office in Washington, D.C. to influence public policy. Judy was also the former chapter president of the Detroit Association of Black Social Workers, Inc. She served on the Board of Directors as Vice Chairperson for Plymouth Education Center Charter School and as a Board Member of New Detroit, Inc. and ARISE. Additionally, she served in an advisory capacity with the Governor’s Task Force on Family Preservation, the Michigan Child Welfare Improvement Task Force and the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. Judy was also a graduate of Leadership Detroit.
Judy was a passionate, effective advocate for children, youth and families facing socio-economic and educational challenges. She fostered the development of many young adults and professionals. From providing bedding to assisting with transportation for youth she mentored, there was no task too small. She was integral in providing job opportunities and guidance to those seeking to improve their station in life. Her expectations were high but her willingness to help was limitless. Her legacy of service will continue to live on in the lives of all she touched.
She met the love of her life, Emerson DeVon Jackson, during a chance meeting at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. Judy and DeVon shared a love for traveling and the theater, and a little jazz too; they married on March 6, 1993. Their union was blessed with one son, Evan Clayton Jackson, who was the apple of her eye and her proudest accomplishment. Judy was a doting mother who was fully engaged with Evan’s participation in sports and education. She could be counted on to be at every event from soccer and basketball, to all day track meets. She was also delighted with any mother and son function. Judy was overjoyed to see Evan graduate from her alma mater, Washington University in May 2015.
Judy was an avid reader and enjoyed listening to jazz. Most importantly, she loved her family and friends and loved spending time with them. Judy also enjoyed the sisterhood of The Carousels because they ‘simply had fun.’ Judy was very fond of going to the workshop (casino) with her sister, Brenda, and Aunt Orpah. Judy’s laughter could breathe life into any setting. A subtle force with immeasurable strength, Judy celebrated life and will truly be missed by all who knew and loved her.
On the morning of October 9, 2015, Judy went to sleep peacefully in the arms of the Lord. Judy was preceded in death by her parents, Clayton and Amy Jackson and her brother, Ronald Jackson. She leaves to cherish her memory: her loving husband, Emerson DeVon Jackson; adoring son, Evan Clayton Jackson; devoted sister, Brenda Murphy; brother-in-law, Joseph Jackson Jr. (Monique); three nieces, Amy Colette Parnell (Bryant), Jeri DeLeon and Donna Medina; two nephews, Mark Jackson (Candice), Jaih Jackson (Kimberly) and a host of family, dear and life-long friends.