Jackson surprised at statewide honor

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Shelby County School Board member Brenda Jackson was honored Thursday with the state’s Martin Luther King Jr. Citizenship Award

By Todd Martin

Shelby County School Board member Brenda Jackson said she was ready to applaud the student who was going to be recognized by the state for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Citizenship Award.

“And then I realized that he [Superintendent James Neihof] was talking about me,” she said of a moment during a recent meeting. “It was really kind of funny, I was ready to clap for the student.”

The official announcement of the award was Thursday during a ceremony at the Kentucky Historical Society/Kentucky History Center in Frankfort Former recipients of the award are Civil Rights activist Rev. Louis Coleman of Shelbyville, Pamela Smith-Wright, the first African-American president of the Kentucky AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary and an Owensboro city commissioner; and Raoul Cunningham, president of the NAACP Louisville Branch.

Presented by the Governor’s Office of Minority Empowerment, the award, its nomination criteria notes, honors individuals who have “demonstrated leadership and achievement to the principles of racial equality, interracial harmony, economic justice, participation in the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday observances and dedication to Dr. King’s dream.”

“When I first received the information and read through all of the things they were looking for – self-sacrifice, leadership, racial equality – Ms. Jackson just leapt to mind. She fits all those criteria and more,” said Neihof, who nominated Jackson for the award.

Having just won her seventh term to represent District 5 on the school board, Jackson, Neihof said, has been a big proponent of equality.

“And not just racially,” he said. “Her advocacy for the African-American community, for academic excellence and equal opportunity has been tremendous. But through the whole issue of [the federal act] No Child Left Behind, she has fought for advocacy of all groups and subgroups listed – from free-and-reduced lunch to special needs.”

Neihof noted that Gov. Steve Beshear and his wife, Jane, would be on hand to present the award.

That, Jackson said, along with the fact that the ceremony will include guest speaker Gerald Smith, the director of the African American Studies and Research program at the University of Kentucky, left her feeling a bit nervous on Thursday afternoon.

“I thought there were several people receiving the award, but no I’ve found out that I’m the only one and there’s this big ceremony,” said Jackson, who retired after a career in state government. “Now I’m nervous.”

But based on her level of involvement with the Shelby County’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day service at St. Johns United Methodist Church and her work with the state and national school boards associations, she should know she belongs, Neihof said.

“We had no idea how large the pool of nominations would be, but we knew we had a very good applicant, and that she would be seriously considered,” he said. “And we were very pleased to find out she would be receiving the award.”

Jackson said she was still a bit surprised, even as the ceremony time approached on Thursday.

“The things I do, I do because I want to,” she said. “Not just for African-American students but for all students. I want them to succeed. People like Dr. King worked really hard to make sure we could all get a quality education, vote and work equal jobs, so we need to take advantage of that.”