Image depicting white text on a black background that reads "Black History Today." The word today is accented with a red and green line.

Black History Today: Dr. Thelma Jackson, Planting and Nurturing the Seeds of Change

by Marcus Harden

Image depicting white text on a black background that reads "Black History Today." The word today is accented with a red and green line.

Black History Today, created by Marcus Harden in celebration of Black History Month, pays tribute to the living legacy of Black history in our community and beyond and recognizes the people shaping the future.

Presented in collaboration with Rise Up for Students.

“I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”

—Toni Morrison

Black History is rooted deeply in the traditions of the African Diaspora, and those roots branch into so much of our collective resilience, creativity, and strength. The nourishment to those roots flows through the honoring and respecting of children and elders, those who offer hope for a new day, and those who’ve tilled the soil to make the day possible.

Dr. Thelma Jackson has dedicated her life to being both the roots and the water in her community, living in joyful service to the children and families in her midst. Hailing from Prichard, Alabama, and graduating from Mattie T. Blount High School, Dr. Jackson would go on to earn her undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Southern University in Baton Rouge and her doctorate in educational leadership from Fielding Graduate University.

In many ways, her technical accomplishments speak for themselves. It is her adaptive qualities that have set her apart as a changemaker.

Headshot photo depicting Dr. Thelma Jackson and behind her a sign reads "Keep Faith in Yourself. It is your greatest asset."
Dr. Thelma Jackson. Photo courtesy of Rise Up for Students.

Dr. Jackson is a strong Black woman who has spent her personal and professional life challenging the status quo. Whether through formally teaching, advocating for policy changes related to social justice in education, or guiding and mentoring the minds of tomorrow through her consulting agency, Foresight Consultants, Dr. Jackson has both planted and watered seeds of quiet impact for more than 30 years to create real change across the educational landscape.

Through her service as president of the North Thurston School Board and the Governor’s Council for Education Reform, or by being an authentic champion for educational equity and advancement through free public charter schools in Washington, Dr. Jackson has always led with a fierce courage and a beautiful sense of grace, not only modeling the way but holding the hands of those behind her.

Of course, her greatest accomplishment may be in her more than 50 years of marriage to her husband and true life partner, Nat, and in her role as the esteemed mother of three children who have all found their own measures of success and impact because of the great fruit that she has planted.

Dr. Jackson, just as Toni Morrison always encouraged her students to do, has freed and empowered so many who have crossed her path. Every community would be better for the graceful leadership that she exemplifies.

More than just the roots, she is the oak tree in which you can find shade, comfort, and rest — to help you find the strength to carry on and empower others. Dr. Thelma Jackson continues to make the ancestors proud, and she is Black History Today!

Marcus Harden is a seasoned educator, with experience as a teacher, counselor, dean, administrator, and program and policy manager. Marcus focuses his work on creating better culture and climate for students, families, and staff. He believes deeply in restorative justice practices and in mindset and resiliency work that leads to excellent and equitable educational outcomes for all students.

📸 Featured image by Devin Chicras for the Emerald.

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