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Rev. Jackson vows to ‘Keep Hope Alive' in Parkinson’s Disease battle

By Raychelle Muhammad -The Final Call- | Last updated: Dec 14, 2017 - 3:24:44 PM

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Iconic civil rights leader Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., recently announced to the world that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He penned an open letter to friends and supporters explaining that the disease is adversely affecting his daily life. Rev. Jackson is now taking a step back to focus on better managing his health.

Rev. Jeanette Wilson (left) marches with Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. in downtown Chicago on behalf of fair wages and workers' rights. Rev. Jackson, a longtime civil rights activist and humanitarian recently disclosed he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.

“Throughout my career of service, God has kept me in the embrace of his loving arms, and protected me and my family from dangers seen and unseen. Now in the latter years of my life, at 76 years old, I find it increasingly difficult to perform routine tasks, and getting around is more of a challenge,” Rev. Jackson said in his Nov. 17 statement.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that has no known cure. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, symptoms of the disease include tremors, slowed movement, limb rigidity, slurred speech, and problems walking and maintaining balance.

The founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition went on to say that it took some time to accept that he, too, had the disease that took his father’s life. He started noticing symptoms three years ago but didn’t immediately seek medical help. A statement from Northwestern Medicine confirmed the diagnosis and said that Rev. Jackson has been in outpatient treatment.

“In 2015, Rev. Jesse Jackson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive degenerative disorder that results from loss of cells in various parts of the brain that control movement. Since that time, Northwestern Medicine has been treating Rev. Jackson in an outpatient setting,” Media Relations and Communications Director Christopher King offered in the official statement.

Rev. Jackson’s son Jonathan Jackson, who is also the national spokesman for Rainbow PUSH, announced Nov. 18 that his father was following doctor’s orders and taking some time to rest.

“My father, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, has come out and has acknowledged his battle now with the disease of Parkinson’s,” Mr. Jackson said. “Sixty thousand Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s a year. There are roughly 7 to 10 million people that have this disease around the world and the good news is that … the disease does not have to progress as fast with a healthy diet, exercise and rest. So on this day he is getting some much needed rest and I am standing in his rightful place and he will be with us very soon.”

While his health is a priority, Rev. Jackson’s work as a public servant is far from over. Rev. Jackson said that he “would rather wear out than rust out.” His son declared that the Rainbow PUSH Coalition is strong and that its fight for justice and equality will continue.

“We come from a family of long livers and strong fighters,” Jonathan Jackson said.

According to his son, Rev. Jackson had plans to meet with the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. The organization has raised over $750 million for research and is making great strides in improving quality of life. Therapies that help manage the disease include surgery, medications, physical therapy, and dietary modifications.

The reverend has received an outpouring of support and well-wishes from people from all walks of life. Rev. Al Sharpton said at his National Action Network rally Nov. 18 that he was able to stand up and fight for justice because of Rev. Jesse Jackson’s mantra, “I am somebody.” He praised Rev. Jackson for speaking life into people like him who were fatherless, poor, voiceless, and disenfranchised.

“Yes, he brought billions into our community with economic development. Yes, he brought hostages home. Yes, he registered millions of voters. But one of the greatest things of his legacy is he gave us self-affirmation to kids that despite your background, despite whatever your pedigree, you were born to be something and you could be whatever you want to be. And he became that example,” Rev. Sharpton said.

Many other notable figures took to social media to express their support and to encourage Rev. Jackson to stay in the fight.

“I know Jesse Jackson will keep hope alive as he battles Parkinson’s disease and continues his tireless commitment to justice and civil rights. Praying for him and his family,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Ca.) offered in a Nov. 17 tweet.

The son of Atlanta’s first Black mayor offered his full support to Rev. Jackson upon hearing the announcement.

“We’re blessed to have worked w/Rev. #JesseJackson when we interviewed him for @maynardmovie! Our prayers of healing are with you @RevJJackson all things are possible through Christ from whom comes our strength! You had my father’s back and we have yours!” Maynard H. Jackson III wrote.

Rev. Jackson’s work as a human and civil rights activist spans over 50 years. His initial foray in the social justice arena was in the summer of 1960 when he set out to desegregate a Greenville public library. By 1965, he had joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) as a full-time organizer. The late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. later appointed Rev. Jackson as the director of Operation Breadbasket. He became an ordained minister in 1968.

Three years later, Rev. Jackson founded Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity) in Chicago. He later founded the Washington, D.C.-based National Rainbow Coalition in 1984. He merged the organizations in 1996 forming the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. The unified group continues to focus on economic empowerment, education, business opportunities, jobs, political empowerment, and affecting public policy.

Rev. Jackson’s presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988 registered in excess of 3 million new voters and won over 10.5 million votes at the polls. These runs for public office made it possible for America to have its first Black president serve for two terms, according to former Rainbow PUSH president Rev. Henry Williamson.

“We can be proud that he laid the foundation for Barack Obama to be elected president of the United States. Not one time, but twice,” Rev. Williamson said Nov. 18 at the Operation PUSH Coalition Saturday rally.

Dubbed “The Great Unifier,” Rev. Jackson has traveled the world as an international diplomat negotiating the release of American hostages held in Syria, Cuba, the UK, France, Kosovo, Liberia, and many others. He is highly decorated receiving countless numbers of awards and over 40 honorary doctoral degrees.

While Rev. Jackson is focusing on his therapy, he announced that he will also be working on his memoir. He has asked for prayers and support in the coming days.

“I want to thank my family and friends who continue to care for me and support me. I will need your prayers and graceful understanding as I undertake this new challenge. As we continue in the struggle for human rights, remember that God will see us through, even in our midnight moments,” Rev. Jackson said.

As always, he is keeping hope alive.