Jesse White, Illinois Secretary of State
Jesse White is the Illinois Secretary of State, and one of my favorite politicians (which is saying a lot!) Though I personally tend to be rather cynical when it comes to politics, especially in Chicago, it’s hard to deny the positive influence that Jesse White has had on our state.
Elected to his current post in 1998, Jesse White became the first African-American Secretary of State in Illinois. He has been re-elected twice, receiving the largest total vote by any candidate for Illinois state office in 25 years.
It’s no secret that Chicago and Illinois have a thick history of political corruption. However, when White took office following a storm of wrongdoing under the direction of George Ryan, he pledged to restore integrity to the office, eliminating institutionalized corruption. Among several actions that were taken, he established an employee code of conduct, stricter fundraising policies, and a strengthening of power in the position of Inspector General.
Jesse White’s history has clearly influenced his policies and interests in Illinois state government. He served as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army and as a member of the Illinois National Guard, and even played minor league baseball for the Chicago Cubs! Following his adventures in the military and sports worlds, White spent 33 years as a teacher and administrator in the Chicago Public Schools system. Throughout his career in Illinois state politics, he has been an active supporter of community service, representing and aiding the marginalized.
Among his most central interests are restoring integrity to Illinois politics, supporting and encouraging organ donation, fighting drunk driving, and modernizing customer services. By streamlining operations and supporting the innovation and use of new technology in government offices and facilities, White has helped Illinois services move toward a more convenient, less wasteful, and more cost-efficient system for citizens.
Also an advocate of teen driving safety, White has enacted several strict laws on the issue, including a nationally top-ranked graduated driver licensing program. In the first year after the new law’s inception, teen crash fatalities dropped by over 40% in Illinois. Not bad, Jesse. Not bad at all.
Most recently, White garnered national attention for choosing not to support the appointment of Roland Burris to the US Senate following the impeachment of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. His reasoning? Why on earth would I certify an appointee named by a governor who was trying to sell that same seat? Go Jesse!
In 1959 Jesse White founded a tumbling team in Chicago, which has become an internationally-acclaimed performing group. The team originated as a positive alternative for children living in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green and Henry Horner neighborhoods. At the time of the program’s creation, these areas consisted of public housing units ridden with gangs, drugs, alcohol, and violence. Though the areas are improving, the juvenile delinquency program continues to offer a different path for youth in these at-risk areas, as well as in 10 other communities in the Chicago metropolitan area.
The Jesse White Tumbling Team aims at providing recreational, athletic, educational, and cultural enrichment to its members. Since the team’s inception, over 10,000 young men and women have performed with the team. Starting as young as at age six, children are welcomed into the center, and begin performing with the group. Every year the Tumbling Team makes over 1,000 appearances, often including performances at NBA and NFL halftime shows.
As a coach, teacher, mentor, confidant, and friend to the members of the team, Jesse White provides what he calls “tough love” to these kids. In order to stay in the program, members are required to follow a strict set of rules set up by White, including staying in school, maintaining a “C” average, and staying away from gangs and drugs. Among programs that members can participate in are the tumbling team, training program, and scholars program.
The Scholars Program offers academic and financial support for team members who plan to continue their education after high school. Included in the program are technology education, college counseling, university campus visits, and scholarship awards.
To learn more about the Jesse White Tumblers, or to make a donation to keep them tumbling, click here.
*Disclaimer: The opinions contained in this article are those of the author, and not of upchicago.com.