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CV – Kimberly G. Jackson: Modeling community conversations for social change

Emilie Socash

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Kimberly G. Jackson, Executive Director of the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions (ISPS) at St. Petersburg College, sees firsthand the power that understanding one’s government has on community life. Jackson, an attorney, has dedicated her career to education, community leadership, and advocating for families who have minors with cognitive disabilities.

Jackson joined SPC in 2012, first teaching as an adjunct professor, then moving on to chair the political science department. She stepped into her current role as the executive director at the Institute in late 2019. The Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions was formed in 2008, and is a non-partisan think tank dedicated to creating solutions-oriented forums. ISPS is the vision of late Congressman C. W. Bill Young, with the mission to explore local, state, and international issues through non-partisan public policy programs, and its current and future partnerships all bear connection to a shared commitment to social impact.

“If you’re interested and you’re willing to absorb the knowledge, we are a good bridge to educate the community on historical data and translate this into how a new vision can be put in place through policy and partnership.” Jackson said. In her 10 months in the role, Jackson said, she is proud of the innovation that ISPS has embodied to raise awareness of its work. She has worked to forge new partnerships across sectors of the community, and to promote civil discourse surrounding the issues that really matter to the citizens of Pinellas County.

The Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions was created in 2008, and you joined in December 2019. When you accepted this role, what excited you about the ISPS?  

When I took the job, I saw that the SPC wanted to be innovative and understand ISPS in a new way. I quickly realized that’s the spot I want to be in. I knew that I’d be bringing along 20 years of building networks in Pinellas County surrounding my key interests (families and sustainability).

My reason for accepting this role was also personal: I was looking for my next chapter, and I just knew change was on the horizon. I found that world events changed my focus in the classroom. While I was out of town on a Model UN trip, I learned that one of my students committed suicide. I was done. These young minds are so vulnerable, and it’s a heightened responsibility for educators. I needed to do something different. I wanted to broaden my scope and make meaningful changes in the community.

As an attorney, political scientist, and strategic policy leader I am able to share my collective experience in this role.

What do you think is the most effective work/program/initiative that the ISPS has done during 2020?

One of our most effective programs this year was the Criminal Justice Reform program with Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump and 6th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Sara Mollo. At a time where criminal justice is a topic most of the country is grappling with, it was important for our community to address it together.

I really believe that think tanks like ISPS should use the resources of the community, deeply embedding within them, to build from what exists to forge something even greater. That is where true impact can be made.

How does ISPS approach “social impact?”

 We look to the subject matters that are passion points for people … These passions also emerge from the way that we form coalitions of nonprofits to achieve social impact.

One program very personal to me is World Autism Awareness Day, which is recognized annually on April 2. For that, we embraced social impact by bringing in Haley Moss, the first autistic attorney in the State of Florida, and Martha Lenderman, who wrote the Baker Act, which can disproportionately affect those living with autism. We centered our conversation around how policy impacts individuals, and how when you have access to understanding something you can change the outcomes. By deeply exploring not only how the policy behind the Baker Act is enforced, but also the accommodations made by the Miami firm that is lucky enough to have Ms. Moss on their team, I believe we achieve my definition of social impact.

This kind of connection can open the door to conversations on topics people don’t normally talk about. We bridge from this passion to hosting programs that promote meaningful discussion.

What do you think it will take to change the social issues we are facing today, here in our local area and nationwide?

If you do not play in the same space as someone else, then you do not get to really experience their authenticity. Rather, we each have to reach out and have meaningful conversations, ones in which our responses are not protected or guarded, in order to really see change happen.

I definitely don’t have the perfect answer. But when people bring down silos by reaching out to others, we see friends who begin asking questions they’ve never asked before. If you really want to know someone’s truth, you need a comfort and trust level on both sides to engage in a conversation.

How can people get involved with ISPS and learn more about its impact on our community?    

Visit the website and check out the donate and volunteer page to see all of the opportunities to connect with us. Also, be sure to visit our Facebook page, which is the best way to learn more about the Institute, and follow our Instagram.

We want to be a convener for the community – that’s our role, and we know that think tanks have the obligation to evolve. The way the Institute was designed allows us to do just that, so we can meet Congressman Young’s original vision of people understanding the scope of government and engaging in dialogue that matters.  

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