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Robert Jackson

City council member Robert Jackson was born on December 18, 1950 in New York City to Zelma Jackson Chu. Jackson attended Walter J. Damrosch School and J.H.S. 120 Paul Lawrence Dunbar. In 1975, he received his B.A. degree in sociology from the State University of New York at New Paltz. That same year, Jackson moved to the Manhattan community of Washington Heights.

Jackson’s political career began in 1986, when he won a seat on New York City’s Community School Board 6. As president of the board, Jackson co-founded in 1993 the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. with Attorney Michael Rebell. Under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Jackson sued the State of New York, arguing that the state did not provide adequate funds to serve the needs of New York City’s school children. In 1995, the New York Court of Appeals decided Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York in Jackson’s favor. Jackson accepted a position in 1993 as director of field services with the Public Employees Federation. In 2001, Jackson ran for a seat on the New York City Council and won, where he represented the constituents of the Washington Heights community and parts of Harlem. When Governor George Pataki brought Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York before the New York Court of Appeals in 2003, Jackson staged a march from New York City to the state capital of Albany. The Court of Appeals upheld the New York Supreme Court’s original decision, and the New York State legislature enacted the Education Budget and Reform Act in 2007. In 2011, Jackson staged another protest walk from New York City to Albany, New York to contest Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $1.5 billion cut to the New York State’s education budget. Jackson won re-election to the New York City Council twice, serving until 2013.

During his tenure as councilman, Jackson served as the only Muslim member of the council as well as the chair of the education committee in addition to serving on the finance, housing & buildings, land use, sanitation & solid waste management, and zoning & franchises committees.

A long time resident of New York City, Jackson’s wife, Faika Rifai Jackson, have two daughters.

Robert Jackson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 1, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.111

Sex

Male

Interview Date

12/1/2016

Last Name

Jackson

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

State University of New York at New Paltz

P.S. 186 Harlem

J.H.S. 120 Paul Lawrence Dunbar

Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics

P.S. 146, Edward J. Collins School

First Name

Robert

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

JAC37

Favorite Season

Summer

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Tanzania

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

12/18/1950

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chinese

Short Description

City council member Robert Jackson (1950 - ) served on the New York City Council from 2001 to 2013, and founded the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

Employment

New York State Public Employees Federation Union

New York City Council

New York State Department of Labor

Favorite Color

Dark Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Robert Jackson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Robert Jackson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Robert Jackson talks about his father figures

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Robert Jackson describes his mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Robert Jackson describes his mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Robert Jackson describes his mother's migration to New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Robert Jackson describes his mother's relationship with his father figures

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Robert Jackson remembers the Harlem neighborhood of New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Robert Jackson describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Robert Jackson talks about his mother's upbringing

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Robert Jackson describes his siblings' racial backgrounds

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Robert Jackson talks about growing up in a multiracial family

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Robert Jackson describes the Sugar Hill section of New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Robert Jackson remembers moving to the Bronx, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Robert Jackson describes his experiences at Benjamin Franklin High School in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Robert Jackson recalls his early work experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Robert Jackson remembers visiting Chinatown with his stepfather

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Robert Jackson remembers his commute to Benjamin Franklin High School in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Robert Jackson describes his decision to attend the State University of New York at New Paltz

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Robert Jackson remembers fracturing his wrist

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Robert Jackson remembers the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Robert Jackson describes his experiences at the State University of New York at New Paltz

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Robert Jackson remembers meeting his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Robert Jackson recalls working as an insurance investigator for the State of New York, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Robert Jackson recalls working as an insurance investigator for the State of New York, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Robert Jackson describes his role in the New York State Public Employees Federation

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Robert Jackson remembers his first campaign for New York City Council

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Robert Jackson talks about his conversion to Islam

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Robert Jackson remembers the birth of his first daughter

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Robert Jackson describes his introduction to education activism

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Robert Jackson recalls his presidency of the New York City Community School Board District 6

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Robert Jackson remembers founding the Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Robert Jackson describes the Campaign for Fiscal Equity's lawsuit against the State of New York, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Robert Jackson describes the Campaign for Fiscal Equity's lawsuit against the State of New York, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Robert Jackson talks about Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Robert Jackson reflects upon the outcome of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Robert Jackson describes the funding of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Robert Jackson reflects upon the outcome of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Robert Jackson reflects upon the state of public education in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Robert Jackson talks about his political and civic involvement

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Robert Jackson talks about the challenges facing public schools

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Robert Jackson talks about the charter school movement

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Robert Jackson talks about the purpose of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Robert Jackson reflects upon the presidential election of 2016

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Robert Jackson describes his campaigns for Manhattan borough president and the New York State Senate

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Robert Jackson talks about his plans for the future

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Robert Jackson reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Robert Jackson reflects upon his life, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Robert Jackson shares his advice for aspiring politicians

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Robert Jackson reflects upon his experiences as a Muslim politician

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Robert Jackson talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Robert Jackson reflects upon his life, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

7$7

DATitle
Robert Jackson recalls his early work experiences
Robert Jackson describes the Campaign for Fiscal Equity's lawsuit against the State of New York, pt. 2
Transcript
So what were you like as a kid?$$Always willing to work to earn money (laughter). Because when you're growing up with nine, and you're growing up on welfare, you know, you have to earn your keep. So I used to, going back in Harlem [New York, New York], I used to collect bottles and return them in to get money or carry people's groceries. I used to go to store for people. Sundays I used to sell newspapers. And then in high school [Benjamin Franklin High School; Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics, New York, New York], I used to work at Rob's Barbeque and Grocery Store [ph.], you know, doing the cashier, putting stuff on the shelf, doing--fixing chicken and what have you and so forth. And I remember one incident when working the barbeque pit and this guy came in, you know, they had, we're, we're on St. Nicholas Avenue between 148th [Street] and 149th Street and they had--they had the 400 bar [400 Tavern, New York, New York] on 148th Street, they had another bar 721 [Silver Dollar, New York, New York] and then they had the Pink Angel [New York, New York], so there were three bars within one block. So a guy came in, I think he was a little drunk, and he asked for a pound of ribs. So I get the ribs, chop, chop, chop, chop, chop, barbeque sauce, the bread on top, put it in the bag. "There you go sir, a pound of ribs." He said, "I didn't ask for a pound of ribs, I wanted a half a pound." I said, "No sir, you asked for a pound of ribs." "I wanted a half a pound of ribs." So Rob [ph.], the owner, said, "Bobby [HistoryMaker Robert Jackson] don't argue with the customer, he want a half pound give--," and he took it and he, "Don't argue with the customer, the customer is always right." Man got a half a pound of ribs, let me tell you that. He didn't want you to argue with the customers. And so that's a lesson to be learned. Don't argue with the customers, customer is always right. If you argue with the customer, you may lose a customer for life.$$Well, that's good advice.$$So anyway, so, you know, earning a living was very important, you know, with nine kids you make some money then you have spending money to buy you--$$And, and when you made money, was part--like a, a southern rule in many houses--$$(Laughter).$$--that you bring part of that money home to your mama. Was that part of your family's rule?$$No, I don't think that was a family rule. Whatever money we earned, we earned ourselves. Obviously if there was a need and she asked, you gave. If not, she took it (laughter). No, but I don't remember that at all and that was not really an issue for us because, you know, my mom [Zelma Jackson Chu] was married to my dad and so he was there, and then also my other dad [James Rudd], so.$$Did he contribute to the household, your other dad?$$Yeah, for sure, yeah. That's why he was like a--because my father, Eddie [Jackson's stepfather, Eddie Chu], after the Chinese laundry where he was a partner which was in the neighborhood at 155th Street near 8th Avenue [Frederick Douglass Boulevard], then he went to go work in a Chinese restaurant on Long Island [New York]. And so would be working all week and come home on weekends.$$So did the, did the laundry close?$$Yeah, I don't, I don't really know what happened. I mean it's not there now. It subsequently closed, but you know, I don't know whether or not his partnership or shares he had in it, I don't know the details of what happened there.$(Simultaneous) Now mind you we filed the lawsuit [Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York] in '93 [1993].$$Um-hm.$$It took us several years to get to the highest court [New York State Court of Appeals], and the highest court ruled in 1995, so it took two years to get to the highest court. Sent us back to the court [New York State Supreme Court] and I remember asking Michael Rebell [Michael A. Rebell], "So Michael, how soon do you think that we're gonna go to trial?" And he said about two years. And I said, "It'll probably take four years." 'Cause even when the lawsuit going back when we were getting ready to start the lawsuit I said to Michael, "Michael I wanna see some results and when my youngest Sumaya [Sumaya Jackson], before she graduates from high school." And when did it finally end, when my youngest daughter was in college. It took thirteen years of litigation to win the case, thirteen years. So the bottom line is that we went to trial in 1999 under Justice Leland DeGrasse, a supreme court judge, black, his parents are from the Caribbean who went to Catholic school, St. John's University [Queens, New York], Howard University law school [Howard University School of Law, Washington D.C.] came to work in Harlem Legal Services [New York, New York] and he wind up being the judge that handled the case. And he ruled in our favor. And we filed it on two claims, one that the State of New York was discriminating against the City of New York children, 84 percent children of color, okay, in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act [Civil Rights Act of 1964]. And number two, they were disc- they were cheating the children out of billions of dollars in the formula that they were shortchanging New York City [New York, New York]. That's our two claims. So when we went to trial, the judge ruled in our favor in January of 2001, ruled in our favor. And of course, the state appealed it to the Appellate Division, huh. And the Appellate Division, First Department [First Judicial Department], 25th Street and Madison Avenue, in their ruling said, no the state is only obligated to educate children equal to sixth grade in reading and eight grade in math. That's what they said to us. And I said to Michael Rebell, I said, "Michael, I know that when we filed this appeal to the highest court they cannot agree that the state is only obligated to educate our children equal to sixth grade in reading and eighth grade in math." So, we, we appealed it to the highest court. And the highest court ruled in our favor. I think that may have been 2001 or 2003. Anyway, I, I said to Michael, "We gonna--when we go to Albany [New York], I'm gonna walk all the way to Albany." And so from May 1st, 2003 to May 8th, I along with initially hundreds of people walked from 25th Street and Madison Avenue, the Appellate Division, First Department of the supreme court that said that our children are only obligated to sixth grade in reading and eighth grade in math, we walked from there all the way to the highest court in Albany, 150 miles. And we walked all the way up Broadway and mind you, the, the lawsuit started in District 6 [New York City Community School District 6] with our school board [New York City Community School Board District 6] and so up in District 6 they had thousands of students out of every school in District 6 on Broadway cheering us on. And mind you in the initial start, the chancellor was there, city councilmembers were there, education advocates were there that walked with us, so people walked some distance. Mind you, I was already in the city council [New York City Council] at the time--$$I was gonna say, because you (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) I was city council.$$--'cause it's going on so long--$$Right, I was elected to the city council January 2002. So I was a member of the city council. I was a member of the education committee [Committee on Education]. I chaired the contracts committee. So we walked all the way to Albany. Eight days, and the theme was, Walk a Mile for a Child. That was the theme of the walk. And we've talked to people, I've said this is, you know, you have to be able to engage people. I said Michael Rebell is the brains and I'm the brawns, and together we can't be beat. And that was the theme of it, Walk a Mile for a Child.