Vernice Jackson is a woman who understands the importance of sharing history, and the value of paying it forward through volunteer work. During the week, she is an experiential education professional at Lorain County Community College. On the weekends, her life takes on other roles.
When the new Smithsonian Institute National Museum of African American History and Culture recently opened its doors in Washington, D.C., Jackson was there. She is one of just 50 volunteer docents selected to help guide visitors in the museum, which is located on the National Mall near the Washington Monument. More than 1,000 people applied for the positions, which include volunteering one weekend a month at the museum.
“It’s an honor,” Jackson said of her role. “I am excited and proud to be part of this. The museum offers a new perspective on African American history in the context of American history and culture.”
According to the Smithsonian, “the National Museum of African American History and Culture will be a place where all Americans can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience, what it means to their lives and how it helped us shape this nation.” Among the museum’s more than 35,000 artifacts are slave shackles, a dress Rosa Parks made in the 1950s and Muhammad Ali’s boxing headgear.
“The collection of items and stories is remarkable,” Jackson said. “The experience for visitors will be amazing.”
Jackson’s life is balance between the past and the future. In her role at LCCC’s Career Services office, Jackson helps students prepare for and obtain meaningful internships that can lead to permanent jobs after graduation. She came to the college in 2012 after working on the industry side of internships.
“I found that interns were coming in to our business with little knowledge of corporate behavior or how to navigate the workplace,” Jackson said. “In my role at LCCC, I’m able to help students understand what to expect as they transition to a for-profit environment.”
Outside of the office, Jackson can be found sharing stories of the past through Women in History, a non-profit organization she cofounded in 1991 that brings history to life through first-person characterizations of notable women in American history. The organization includes 12 members who cover 300 years of American history by telling the stories of 120 different women. Jackson’s favorite portrayal to perform is Mary Elizabeth Bowser – a Union spy during the Civil War.
Jackson drew upon her vast experience with Women in History during her interview for the docent position. The interview required she select a display in the museum and give a mock tour. Jackson chose a collection of four dresses by Ann Lowe, the first African American dress designer to achieve major success on New York’s Fifth Avenue. Lowe’s designs were a favorite among wealthy women from the 1920s to the 1960s.
“I had portrayed Ann Lowe for Women in History, so I am very familiar with her story,” Jackson explained.
“She designed dresses for high society women – even Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress was designed by Ann Lowe.”
The mock tour was a success and Jackson was selected as a docent. After a short celebration, the studying and training began. From January through September, Jackson spent every weekend in training courses – at first online and then in person in Washington, D.C. Jackson lives in Lakewood but is originally from Washington, D.C. and she still has family members in the D.C. metro area, including a daughter, who is vice president of business and legal affairs at Discovery Communications. Returning to the D.C. area to volunteer is rewarding, she said.
“My father always said that people born in D.C. were destined to live someplace else to make room for all the other people moving into the District. So I moved. I lived in California now Ohio,” she recalled. “What my father didn’t say was that people born in D.C. were destined to come back. With my children grown and my professional career winding down, I am returning to the city of my birth. Not ready for the rocking chair, I am prepared to begin a new chapter in my life’s journey, giving back to my hometown.”
The docent training included not just testing knowledge on historical facts, but also making connections between history and our country’s current state of affairs, Jackson said.
“I thought I knew a lot about African American history before this but the whole experience is eye opening,” Jackson said. “The museum presents a whole new way of looking at history. This isn’t just about the struggle of black people, but it’s about how that struggle shapes every part of America.”
Jackson recalled growing up in D.C. and experiencing segregation, though at the time she didn’t know the word.
“As a D.C. native, I collected everyday events that became life lessons,” she said. “Restrictions on what schools we could attend and restrictions on where and how we shopped had no impact on me because I had no idea what segregation meant. I entered kindergarten across town at Harrison Elementary, despite the fact that I lived around the corner from W.B. Powell Elementary.”
Later, she marched through D.C. to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. speak at the Lincoln Memorial.
“Living through these events, I can appreciate how far we have come as a people, realizing that just understanding what happened during my lifetime paints an incomplete picture. One must embrace all those people and events that came before,” she said.
Through volunteering at the museum and by representing the past through Women in History, Jackson is working hard to ensure future generations can see the whole picture.
Jackson holds a bachelor of arts in communications from Baldwin Wallace University and a master of science in organizational development and analysis from Case Western Reserve University. She operates her own organizational development consultant company, Match Method Solutions. She has been a civic volunteer in the Cleveland community for many years.
More information about the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of African American History and Culture is available at https://nmaahc.si.edu/.
For more information about Women in History, visit www.womeninhistoryohio.com.
For more information LCCC’s Career Services, visit www.lorainccc.edu/careers.