The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader and former presidential candidate, announced Friday that he has Parkinson’s disease.
Jackson, 76, said he had found it “increasingly difficult to perform routine tasks” and get around in recent years. After initially resisting due to his work, Jackson said, he relented and sought medical testing.
“Recognition of the effects of this disease on me has been painful, and I have been slow to grasp the gravity of it,” Jackson said in a statement released through the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, his social change group. “For me, a Parkinson’s diagnosis is not a stop sign but rather a signal that I must make lifestyle changes and dedicate myself to physical therapy in hopes of slowing the disease’s progression.”
Jackson remains an active presence in American life and politics. Last year, he shuttled across the country speaking and registering people to vote, saying that people “are very motivated when we are inspired.”
Jackson ran presidential campaigns in the 1980s that have since been viewed as paving the way for former president Barack Obama’s successful campaigns that followed a generation later. In 1988, during his second bid for the Democratic nomination, Jackson finished second to Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Donna Brazile, who served as Jackson’s field director in 1984, later called Jackson’s legacy a transformative one for the Democratic Party.
“He made it possible not just for blacks to sit at the black desk, but to sit at every desk in American politics,” Brazile told The Washington Post in 2008.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who once worked for Jackson, said Friday he had spent recent days in New York with the man he described as his mentor, and he praised Jackson’s work and legacy on civil rights issues and in electoral politics.
“He changed the nation,” Sharpton said in a video statement. “He served in ways he never got credit [for]. No one in our lifetime served longer and stronger. We pray for him because he’s given his life for us.”
In his announcement Friday, Jackson described Parkinson’s as “a disease that bested my father” and pledged to use his platform and voice to seek a cure for the illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Parkinson’s is the second-most-common neurodegenerative disorder, trailing only Alzheimer’s disease.
“I will continue to try to instill hope in the hopeless, expand our democracy to the disenfranchised and free innocent prisoners around the world,” Jackson wrote, adding that he would also work on a memoir. “I steadfastly affirm that I would rather wear out than rust out.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Mark Berman