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Jesse Jackson Jr. was there for me

 Democratic U.S. Rep. Jesse JacksJr. Chicago 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast File)

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in Chicago in 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

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Updated: February 19, 2013 3:06PM

I am going to miss Jesse JacksonJr., or Junior, as I called him. He was approachable and accessible.

I first met the congressman, who recently resigned, years ago when I invited him to speak at my church. I called his scheduler and she asked me when I wanted him to visit. I gave her a date, and she said it was open and he’d be there.

But then I found out that our choir was performing special music that day, which would take up the entire worship service. I called Rep. Jackson’s scheduler back, explained the situation and she laughed. As a member of a church herself, she said, she knew you do not mess with the choir director. We rescheduled, and the congressman arrived that day with just one person with him. We had expected a posse. After he spoke, he joined us for fellowship.

My neighbor went to church with me that day because she had two sons serving in the Army in Iraq. She wanted one of her sons to leave Iraq. She asked Junior for assistance. The next day, she told me that his office had called her early that morning and started the process of getting one of the boys transferred. As it happened, her boys decided they did not want to leave Iraq, but Jackson’s office did make contact with the Army.

The congressman later spoke at our church a second time, making an informative presentation on the civil-rights movement. He never mentioned politics, much to the disappointment of some church members who had protested his appearance because they thought it would be political.

I appreciate a politician who shows up to talk with a group even when it’s not an election season.

I also am a member of a group that protested the war in Iraq, and we met with Jackson at his office in Homewood. The meeting lasted almost an hour, though we did not get what we wanted. He told us he wanted to see our troops come home but wasn’t privy to the same information President Barack Obama was getting, so he would defer to the president’s judgment. We left disappointed but impressed that he had met with us and was honest.

The last time I met Junior personally was in the spring of 2012. I was part of a group protesting the construction of a detention center in Crete. He joined us on a march from downtown Crete to the proposed site, almost five miles. When we then learned we’d have to walk the whole way back because there would be no buses, Junior insisted on walking back with us. After less than half a mile, someone in a van recognized him and offered him a lift. I told him you can’t ride back unless we can all ride with you, but there wasn’t enough room in the van, so I sat on his lap. I was disappointed that no one had a camera to take my picture.

So, yes, I am going to miss my namesake. I can only hope whoever replaces him is half the woman/man. And I am holding out hope that he can get himself together and re-enter public life.

And I don’t want to hear your nasty remarks about Peotone, Tony Rezko, the quest for President Obama’s Senate seat or the “other woman.”

I know about all of that, but this is my tribute to him and I really don’t care what you think.

Jessie Cunningham, who lives in Homewood, is social action coordinator for the Northern Illinois Conference of United Methodist Women.

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