Saturday, 16 February 2013


When I was growing up in Connecticut, it was not very diverse, including the schools I attended, which were outstanding.  In addition to an excellent education, my mother wanted to ensure that my brother and I had a sense of our African-American identity – especially socially, culturally and philanthropically.  So, she accepted an invitation to join Jack and Jill of America. Today, my sister-in-law is a member, so that my nieces can experience the same. 
This is a story of its history.
During the Great Depression, in the 1930s, segregation was pervasive in the United States. The system allowed for “separate, but equal” accommodations for African-Americans. Under this policy, African-Americans were barred from social and cultural activities that integrated them with White people – even in the North.

While visiting a friend in Brooklyn, New York, Mrs. Louise Truitt Jackson-Dench, a mother living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, heard a story that inspired her to organize a group, where children could socialize without suffering the cruelties of segregation. Mrs. Jackson-Dench’s friend told her of an annual Christmas party where attendees, who had moved to other boroughs and cities, would always get together, when they returned to Brooklyn for the holidays. The story warmed her heart, and she thought that Philadelphia families would enjoy something similar; but as a permanent club, rather than simply as an annual event. The idea was to provide recreational activities when and where these families were denied access, due to racial segregation.
Mrs. Jackson-Dench’s club became a reality when she and her friend, Mrs. Marion Stubbs-Thomas, along with eighteen local, Philadelphia mothers organized the first chapter of Jack and Jill, on January 24, 1938, with the purpose of providing social, cultural and educational opportunities for African-American families. Mrs. Stubbs-Thomas is considered the Founding Mother of Jack and Jill. She said of establishing the organization,
To we, as mothers, Jack and Jill is a means of furthering an inherent and natural desire…to bestow upon our children all the opportunities possible for a normal and graceful approach to a beautiful adulthood.”
Mrs. Louise Jackson-Dench and
Mrs. Marion Stubbs-Thomas
After that first meeting on a rainy, January 1938 Friday night, in Philadelphia, the idea of those 20 mothers spread, first to New York, then to Washington DC. Jack and Jill had become an inter-city association. Between 1944 and 1946, the group swiftly expanded to ten chapters. In June 1946, representatives of eight of the ten groups met in Philadelphia to consider organizing into a national organization. The purpose and aims were set out, committees established and new officers were elected and installed. By 1968, there were 120 chapters in 33 cities, the major cities being Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC.

1951 Jack and Jill South Carolina Chapter

The objectives of Jack and Jill of America, Inc. are to: “create a medium of contact for children, which will stimulate growth and development and provide children constructive educational, cultural, civic, health, recreational and social programs.”

Mothers of children, between the ages of 2 and 19, divided into age groups, are invited into Jack and Jill, hold the membership and are required to plan and host monthly activities for the young people, who are the focus of the program. The kids take part in cultural activities, fundraisers, leadership training, legislative events and social events, such as: ski trips, camping, pizza parties, cotillions, as well as college planning, theater trips and conferences, to name a few. Mothers attend required, monthly meetings and act on committees, focused on the work of the organization, as well as larger efforts aimed to better the conditions of all children, not just their own. High School graduating teenagers are celebrated and honored at the annual Regional Teen Conferences.
Jack and Jill social event

Jack and Jill Whitewater Rafting Trip
Jack and Jill Cotillion
Jack and Jill trip to Capitol Hill

Houston, Texas Chapter Teen Conference

Jack and Jill Mothers

Fathers are invited to participate at various events, throughout each year.

Jack and Jill Fathers' Event
At the time Jack and Jill was founded, a majority of the activities took place in the homes of the founding members. By doing this, the amount of discrimination the children and their mothers encountered greatly decreased. After the national chapter was formed, the organization initiated an adaptive strategy. They began contributing to public service projects. Making these financial and service contributions, reinforced their dedication to services, which met the needs of children.
As the Civil Rights Movement’s momentum increased, so did Jack and Jill’s efforts in helping African-Americans adjust to new, political and social changes. Through the work of local chapters, in the form of memorial gifts, fundraisers, bequests and individual gifts, funds were disbursed to organizations such as the NAACP Legal Fund, Mental Health, and other groups. As a continuation of the adaptive program, Jack and Jill sponsored programs for urban youth. In collaboration with HBCU, Howard University, and local Jack and Jill chapters, the Jack Be Quick program served as an educational project designed for young, African-American and Latino males. The program covered job skills, interpersonal communication, and coping mechanisms. By doing this, young men gained a sense of the opportunities that awaited them beyond their often rather-confining, urban dwellings.
Fayetteville, Georgia  Chapter Fundraiser

Since Jack and Jill of America, Inc. was founded, in 1938, it has evolved into a national organization as a result of strong programming, such as: Healthy Living, Youth Leadership Development, Youth Financial Literacy, Youth Community Service Recognition (certification for 25 hours of community service), National Day of Service, National Legislative Advocacy, Rebuild America in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

Jack and Jill’s first National Service Project, The Research for Rheumatic Fever, in 1947, Jack and Jill has contributed to an array of non-profit organizations and causes including The Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which was designated the official National Project from 1952-1957; the National Association of Mental Health; the NAACP Freedom Fund; the Urban League; the United Negro College Fund, etc. At the 1956 National Convention, in San Francisco, one of the recommendations of the National Service Project Committee that was adopted, established a committee to study plans for also establishing a National Project that would be exclusive to Jack and Jill, and would not have an affiliation with any other group, organization, or corporation.  At the 17th National Convention, in 1966, the attendees resolved to establish a charitable foundation, within two years. 

Jack and Jill of America Foundation became a reality and was incorporated in 1968, in ChicagoThe Foundation, in collaboration with the community service agenda of Jack and Jill of America, Inc., is an internationally recognized center that furnishes personal, professional and financial support to children in the areas of leadership skills, training and development.

Since its inception in 1968, The Foundation has distributed millions of dollars to communities all across America. In so doing, The Foundation is fulfilling its shared vision with Jack and Jill of America, Inc., to invest in the future of children. Programs funded by The Foundation include: improving academic test scores, raising literacy and mathematical competencies, encouraging cultural consciousness, and instilling moral and social responsibility in America’s youth.

The Foundation’s Vision Statement is “to promote the excellent preparation of succeeding generations of children as leaders, in all walks of life, so that they may attain their fullest potential as individuals, enjoy rewarding and fulfilling lives, and contribute to world peace, progress, and prosperity.”

Jack and Jill also publishes regional newsletters, called Jack & Jill; and an annual national journal, called Up the Hill.  In its first issue, Founder, Mrs. Stubbs-Thomas reflected on Jack and Jill’s first ten years, saying:

“When the first, little group of us organized in January 1938, we were seeking to stimulate a social and cultural relationship between our children…Little [could we imagine] at the time, that this idea, which was so inspiring, would grow to such proportions. As [we grew], the aims and ideals of Jack and Jill were strengthened, always with our children as the focal point. It is intensely satisfying to predict a nationwide group of mothers and children, bound together by similar interests and ideals. As we grow in numbers and achievements, may we always keep before us the lofty principles upon which Jack and Jill of America was founded.”

Today, Jack and Jill of America, Inc. is the oldest and largest African-American family organization, in the United States. Jack and Jill is committed to ensuring that all children have the same opportunities in life.

At present, the organization is divided into seven regions, which operate to support the 227 chapters (and growing!) and 30,000+ parents and children, who participate, around the country. The National Headquarters is located in the Strivers Section Historic District, just north of the Dupont Circle Historic District. Since the 1870s, the area has been associated with African-American leaders in business, education, government, and the arts, including runaway slave, abolitionist, writer, and diplomat, Frederick Douglass.

Jack and Jill HQ

Jack and Jill celebrated its 75th anniversary in Philadelphia, last year during the 40th  National Convention. The national theme for 2012-2014 is “Power and Potential: Parents Empowering Youth.”  Click here to see a 3-minute video on Jack and Jill’s 2010-2012 theme.  

I, for one, feel that Jack and Jill was one factor, in my life, that empowered me to always strive to reach my potential; and I am truly grateful for that.

Sources: Wikipedia, Jack & Jill of America, Learning to Give, Google Images, YouTube 

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