The nation’s eyes turned to Kim Jackson ’06 on Nov. 3 when she became Georgia’s first openly gay state senator. Now that she represents District 41, however, Jackson hopes to redirect that gaze to people who often seem invisible to society.
“My father is a social worker, and I spent time going to babysit children at the children’s home every couple of months. My mom was a community nurse, and I rode with her out to the old peach farms that had the shanties in the back of the property where kids with sickle cell lived,” said Jackson, who grew up Cowpens, South Carolina, outside of Spartanburg. “I visited with them, and I played with them as a kid. So I’ve never not been able to see those kids who were living in extreme poverty. I’ve never not been able to see the adults who care for them and the adults who struggle to figure out how to get running water in their houses. … I think where I find myself now is continuing to see people and wanting to give them a chance.”
Jackson serves as the Vicar at the Episcopal Church of the Common Ground Atlanta, which has a congregation made up of people who are unhoused, and she ran on a platform of education and criminal justice reform, affordable housing and comprehensive anti-discrimination (among other things).
“I’m trying to make the world better for people who have often been left behind or who have been marginalized,” Jackson, a Democrat, said. “I do think that most legislators get into this work to make the world better. The people that (some of them are) making it better for are not always the same people I’m trying to fight for. I think that’s the difference.”
Politics has been Jackson’s goal since she was 13 and saw James Talley, Spartanburg’s first Black mayor, presiding over a city council meeting.
“I had that lightbulb moment that every teacher wants where I saw that this is something that I could do,” she said. “But more importantly, it was a moment where I realized that if I wanted to make positive change in the world, elected office was going to be the way to do that because I heard them making decisions that would positively impact the lives of people in Spartanburg.”
Impacting people is also why Jackson became a pastor. After graduating with a degree in history from Furman, Jackson moved to Atlanta and earned a Master of Divinity from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.
“I have a deep sense of needing to recognize the humanity in every person. My faith tradition taught me that God created us all and loves us all, and therefore, we should see and love one another,” she said. “I don’t understand how it is that people ignore other people.”
Jackson attended Furman on a James B. Duke Scholarship, and she said that the lessons she learned about communicating with people of diverse backgrounds have been invaluable to her political career already and will be critical to accomplishing anything in a legislative chamber controlled by Republicans.
“A lot of those skills I learned at Furman from being this country girl who lands in this majority-white, fairly affluent school,” she said. “It taught me how to build relationships with people who are different from me, and I will employ those same skills to build relationships with Republicans and to help us find common ground.”
She also credits retired University Chaplain and Professor of Religion Jim Pitts for expanding the possibilities she could envision for herself.
“I learned that when Jim Pitts put me in his car and drove me to meet two Black pastors in Greenville, South Carolina, who were doing community work, so I’m incredibly grateful for that,” she said. “I do not think I would be where I am today if I had not had the chaplain take me by the hand and show me what’s possible.”
Jackson lives on a farm in Stone Mountain, Georgia, with her wife, Trina. She doesn’t necessarily see herself as a role model but knows that others do, which is all that really matters.
“That became really clear to me when a student from my high school reached out to me on Instagram after my election and told her own story of being gay and living in Cowpens, South Carolina, and how my story inspired her and gave her hope,” Jackson said.
One of three openly LGBTQ Black female state senators in the country, Jackson is also the first out priest of color to be ordained in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. The “firsts” give her a platform she wouldn’t otherwise have, but she hopes to see a day where firsts aren’t such a big deal.
“I hope that we can recruit more women. I hope that we can recruit more women of color,” Jackson said, referring both to politics and the clergy. “I hope that we can recruit more women of color who are also queer. I think that’s important.”
Learn more about Jackson at her website, kimforgeorgia.com.