This is the speech given by Sandra Jackson on January 20, 2020 as she accepted the John Thompson, Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award from Georgetown University and its president, Dr. John J. DeGioia. We hope you are as inspired by the speech, and Ms. Jackson, as we all are.
To Dr. DeGioia and the Georgetown University Selection Committee—I am extremely thankful and honored to receive the John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award named in honor of a giant on the basketball court and an advocate for justice. And, receiving this award on this day—honoring another giant and drum major for justice, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—is humbling.
I am a long way from the little girl growing up in Washington, D.C. where I have fond memories that include meeting my soulmate more than 50 years ago, but also where I encountered my own challenges. My journey here can be traced to a family that loved, supported and sacrificed for me. My mother the social worker (with no formal degree), was an architect of wrap-around services for the family, her friends and community. I credit her with the inspiration for my journey.
This also framed my approach to this work; I see something special in the women, children and families we serve—even when they don’t see it in themselves. When I look into the eyes of a child, I don’t see what’s not possible, I see possibility at the highest level. And, as Marian Wright Edelman said, “The question is not whether we can afford to invest in every child; it is whether we can afford not to.” And, through the support and services House of Ruth offers, we believe that the women, children and families are not what happened to them, but they are created masterpieces on the journey, to becoming and realizing their purpose.
When Dr. DeGioia visited one of our family programs, he heard the stories of several mothers, and how the support they were receiving was moving them forward to achieve their goals and dreams. One mother in the group has four young children—but she is up and out the door by 6:00 a.m. with her children (including one-year-old twins), delivering them to three different schools by way of public transportation, before she arrives at her training program for the day.
Dr. DeGioia asked what was the model that supports the women—we talked about the trauma-informed practice, safe housing, child development services, counseling, financial literacy, life skills, budgeting, debt remediation, and the list goes on—all of which are critical to their success, but the resounding themes the women shared were…
- the staff believed in them—even when they did not believe in themselves,
- the staff listened and supported them through difficult times,
- the staff pushed them when they felt like they could not go on.
I stand before you today, because someone believed in me and I answered the call to serve: putting one foot ahead of the other and moving forward—not always sure what lied ahead but confident that my steps were being ordered and if I kept moving forward, I would walk into my purpose—to defend and help others.
I accept the John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award on behalf of Dr. Veronica Maz, a Georgetown University Professor who founded House of Ruth 43 years ago—with one program providing housing for eight women;
I accept this award on behalf of the 13,000 women, children and families we have served over the 43 years;
I accept this award on behalf of our 100+ staff, who serve in the 16 current programs;
I accept this award on behalf of our board of directors, who have supported this out of the box executive director;
I accept this award on behalf of the public funders and foundations, who hear my appeals for funds;
I accept this award on behalf of the 20,000 committed donors (who helped House of Ruth raise 7 million dollars to build a state of the art child development center in Ward 7—for the future leaders);
I accept this award on behalf of my husband and family who comforts this social worker;
Finally, I accept this award and share it with my mother who I believe is in heaven, saying “you did good, baby girl.”