SHINING STAR: Phillip Jackson, the founder of the Black Star Project, died on Nov. 4 from cancer. Jackson was a prominent education activist in the city and served in various executive roles throughout his career. | The Black Star Project

Residents across the city are mourning the death of Phillip Jackson, the founder of the Black Star Project — a Chicago nonprofit focused on improving black communities and closing the racial equity gap. Jackson died from cancer on Nov. 4 at 68.

In a Twitter post, Rev. Jesse Jackson said that Jackson was “a bright black star, who gave his all to educating the children of Chicago.”

Phillip Jackson was born on Sept. 22, 1950. He was grew up in Altgeld Gardens before moving to the Robert Taylor Homes. In a fit of irony, Jackson would eventually become the CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority — the agency that oversaw the city’s infamous public housing projects. 

A graduate of Roosevelt University and the National College of Education, Jackson served in a range of executive positions—from vice president and director of operations for Kroch’s & Brentano bookstore, one of the city’s oldest and largest chain booksellers to chief of staff for Chicago Public Schools; to CHA CEO; to Chicago’s chief for education during the administration of former mayor Richard M. Daley; to CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago. 

In 2002, Jackson decided to devote his full energy to the Black Star Project, the nonprofit he formed in 1996. He was the nonprofit’s executive director until his death.

According to Jackson’s official biography, which was posted to his nonprofit’s website, among The Black Star Project’s signature initiatives were the “national annual Million Father March that organized about 1 million fathers in more than 600 cities to take their children to school on the first school day” to Saturday University — a “system of free community-based learning centers designed to motivate youths to succeed in life.” 

“We have lost a great and passionate warrior,” the Rev. Michael Pfleger wrote on Facebook in the wake of Jackson’s death. “Phillip was not one of those pop-up folks who came for a minute and then disappeared. Phillip was a consistent voice for change and justice who spent his life demanding better for our children and was willing to pay the price it cost him.”

In a 2014 interview with Chicago Reporter, Jackson’s unconventional take on the country’s educational system was on full display.

“Education is one of the few areas that I know of that really hasn’t kept up with all the change that has happened in the world,” he said. “They might have some laptops in the classroom, but the people who teach have the same mindset that people taught with in 1809, when the American education system was created. They’re still thinking, “I’m the teacher, I will stand at the front of the classroom and you will listen to me.” That’s not education.

“One of the things we try to do at Black Star Project is evolve a modern education system based on education for life, not theoretical knowledge. Who cares if you know when the Civil War ended? What’s important is if we can educate a child to understand how to rebuild their community. On that subject, we’re not even trying.”

A memorial service was planned for Jackson on Nov. 20. He was buried earlier this month. According to the Black Star biography, Jackson is survived by four sisters.