When Shanelle Jackson succeeded in winning a seat in the Michigan House of Representatives in 2006 at the age of 26, she was the youngest woman of color ever elected to either chamber of the Legislature. A Democrat, she represents the 9th District covering northwest Detroit. Youth is not her only asset. Shanelle is on a mission: to improve the job climate, especially in Detroit; to ensure equitable funding for education; reform discriminatory insurance practices; and to make Detroit a magnet for business development.
Dissatisfied with law school and in pursuit of a graduate program that would bolster her mission, Shanelle discovered the Master’s of Social Justice program offered by Marygrove College after checking with several universities. With an intense schedule of monthly Friday night, Saturday and Sunday classes, the Social Justice program is ideal for those with fulltime employment. She says, “That program was written for me and I believe God led me there. I really appreciate Marygrove and the exposure to remarkable professors, and to profound ideas and Catholic social teaching.” Prior to her election to the State House, Shanelle worked as deputy chief of staff for State Representative Virgil Smith. She was co-founder of the Empowerment Fund, an organization for youth who need mentoring, tutoring and career support.
Newly elected to the Legislature, Shanelle lobbied hard to defeat the bill that would have ended the Michigan State Tuition Grant that leveled the playing field for students attending private colleges and universities through grants to offset higher tuition. She is particularly proud of brokering a bill that allows Cobo Center to remain the property of the City of Detroit while permitting the City to lease the center to a regional authority which would be responsible for the cost of renovation and expansion of the exhibition space. In collaboration with other Democrats and in bi-partisan groups, she has worked to pass several vital pieces of legislation. Among them: mortgage reform provisions such as requiring the licensing of loan officers; reasonable payment plans for back taxes; and loan modification programs. Another bill, Adult Foster Care Reform, mandated background checks for workers. Insurance Reform empowered the Insurance Commissioner to make refunds when customers were overcharged.
Representative Jackson has served as Associate Speaker Pro Tempore of the House for four years and Executive Vice-Chair of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus. She is a member of the Appropriations Committee and serves on several sub-committees. To keep in touch with voters, Representative Jackson holds frequent meet and greet sessions throughout her district at such locations as the farmers’ market and recreation centers. She also meets individually with constituents who have either a business or personal problem and makes every effort to find a solution for them.
Given the impact of term limits and the re-drawing of election districts, the young legislator is looking at other offices and hopes that she will be elected to serve in the United States Congress. She has already achieved a good deal of public recognition. Shanelle was featured as one of “20 in their 20s” by Crain’s Detroit Business in 2010, and she received the NAACP “Great Expectations Award” at the 55th Freedom Fund Dinner, also in 2010, as well as this year’s Marygrove Distinguished Alumna Award. She is also a frequent panelist on the “Let It Rip” segment of FOX 2 News with Huel Perkins.
A number of influences have fueled Shanelle’s passion for politics. She speaks of the leadership, love and heroism of her mother, Jasmine Jackson, who was widowed when her daughter was just one and a half years old and she was expecting Shanelle’s brother. Her grandmother joined the small family to help with raising the two children. Regular church going in their northwest Detroit neighborhood was a big part of family life. Girl Scouting became a significant part of her growth and development. At age eight, she joined the chapter at Fellowship Chapel and during the next six years she learned about civic responsibility and how to be a part of changing the world for the better.
Shanelle remembers a deep sense of awe when she attended Nelson Mandela’s appearance at Tiger Stadium after his release in South Africa. She is a graduate of Detroit’s Redford High School and the University of Michigan-Dearborn where she earned a degree in Political Science. Her volunteer work includes mentoring and civic education in the Detroit Public Schools, the African American Museum and the Detroit Branch of the NAACP. She is an active member of her church, Word of Faith Church International Christian Center.