Former Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Jackson made it official last Wednesday -she’s running for the United States Senate in next year’s election.

A likely candidate since the summer, Jackson, 44, officially kicked off her campaign last Wednesday on the South Side, using BJs Market and Bakery, 8734 S. Stoney Island, as the backdrop for her announcement. The small business was helped by Project NextOne, an Urban League initiative spearheaded by Jackson to promote economic recovery and job creation.

John Meyer, owner of BJ’s, introduced Jackson, saying: “I have a special relationship with Cheryle. I was a member of the last class of the NextOne program. It was a phenomenal program; it let me learn more about my business, but most important, about myself. 

“Cheryle Jackson is phenomenal; she is inspirational,” Meyer added. “Over the last several weeks we have seen what is in store for Cheryle when she goes to Washington.  Politics is not for the faint-hearted. Cheryle has the heart of a lion; she will be fighting for us.”

Jackson, a South Side native, became CEO of the Chicago Urban League in 2006 and officially resigned from the post last Tuesday. She also briefly served as press secretary for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich before leaving to head the Urban League. She was born on the South Side in 1965 and moved that year with her parents to Memphis.

During her announcement last week, Jackson talked about her family and childhood.

Her father, Charles Robinson, had been refused positions as an accountant because he was black, she recalled, but subsequently, he became an entrepreneur. Her mother, Earnestine, was able to pursue her passion for music all the way to Carnegie Hall as a composer. Jackson then talked about what she would do as senator and the trying times the country is facing economically.

“At the Chicago Urban League, I saw first hand the devastating impact this recession has had on our middle-class and working families, and I was in the trenches working everyday to help solve those problems,” she said. “I am running for the U.S. Senate because the people of Illinois deserve an honest, independent broker, and a bold advocate in Congress who is a problem-solver and not just a politician. 

“With an unemployment rate at an all time high, it is not enough to talk about the need for job training and competitiveness without addressing the other side of the equation,” Jackson added. “Illinoisans and people around the country got hit with an economic recession that not only rocked Wall Street but our main streets, too. While at the Urban League, I proposed the Illinois Job Stimulus Fund to help small businesses weather the storm…As senator, I would work for programs like this fund that would bring government and financial institutions to help small businesses hire and maintain staff by refinancing small business debt with grants and loans.”

Jackson talked about the educational system in Illinois, citing an organization, National Organization to Learn, which ranked Illinois 45th in the nation among the worst public schools. These schools continue to be filled with poor and minority children, she noted.

“Last year, I led the Urban League in a lawsuit against the state of Illinois and the Illinois [State] Board of Education to change the way schools are funded, because I know we can do better.”

On the issue of increasing taxes, Jackson said, “Well, obviously, we’re in tough economic times and now is certainly not the time to increase taxes on middle-class or working families. Now is the time – and this is why I support the stimulus recovery act – for government to step up and see how to stimulate and support, from Wall Street right on down to main street.”

Concerning women voting for her: “Women should vote for those that represent the interest of women and families; women bring that prospective. We’re not the only one that brings that prospective; it is important to have lots of prospective at the table if you’re looking to solve problems that everyday people face. If it takes a woman to be in Washington to fight for parity, to make certain that we don’t loose ground and speak up boldly on behalf of that, then I’m happy to be that woman.”

Though she briefly worked for Blagojevich, Jackson addressed whether she’s distancing herself from the disgraced, former governor.

“I already had left,” she said, concerning the federal investigation looking into corruption involving Blagojevich, who’s facing a likely federal indictment. “I sued the governor after leaving because he didn’t do enough for education. I took a bold stand against a key piece of legislation that they were proposing to balance the budget; that was the gross receipt tax. You know why? It would have devastated small businesses. The first thing I did when I stepped through the doors and switched the focus of the Urban League from social services to economic development…I gave the government back money in grants and programs we didn’t need.”

Jackson added that she supports the Olympics coming to Chicago, while making certain that the games benefits all of Chicago. 

“That is one of the first things that I did when I stepped into the Chicago Urban League. I drove and watched a study on how will the Olympics benefit communities that have been underserved. And we looked at best practices in Atlanta, L.A., and even Spain, London [and] Canada; as to how we can have an Olympics, at the same time make sure we protect and have affordable housing; that we have jobs, and that small businesses are able to benefit, and not just the big guys.”