During Capital Day for the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) on Thursday, Jackson State University interim President Dr. Rod Paige urged legislators and business leaders to continue helping JSU move forward as one of the state’s most powerful and prestigious economic engines despite the HBCU’s financial challenges.
The MEC event provided hundreds of attendees an opportunity to network with statewide elected officials to discover what’s on tap for the upcoming legislative session.
Speaking inside the downtown Marriott, Paige – who had shared the stage with Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and MEC chair Robin Robinson – said he’s committed to proving to leaders that they can “count on us facing those challenges head on, overcoming them and helping the university advance even further because Mississippi needs Jackson State, and the city of Jackson needs Jackson State.” Several key presenters agreed that JSU plays a vital role in the state’s expanding economy.
In addition, Paige said the urban university has provided thousands of jobs statewide and beyond and launched the careers of many JSU alumni, which include a number of elected state lawmakers.
He described the university as a place that always will provide opportunities, even for people like himself who really “just wanted to play football” when he was a student at the urban institution many decades earlier. However, the proud JSU alum has enjoyed a stellar career that included serving as U.S. secretary of education during the administration of President George W. Bush.
Previously, he had been a head football coach at JSU; a dean at Texas Southern University; and superintendent of the Houston Independent School District – one of the largest educational systems in the country.
He told legislators and business leaders that JSU still has the potential to advance even further because they are “the wind (beneath) the wings” of JSU that’s helping the university soar higher. Paige expressed gratitude to the stakeholders for their willingness to inspire progress and their desire to help propel the careers of all JSU students – past, present and future.
He then asked the politicians and business leaders to continue to “guide us and support us because we’re not just talking about an institution for some of us but rather for all of us.”
And, as an example of student commitment, he referred to recent graduate Keith Kennard, who returned to college after a long hiatus by enrolling at Jackson State at age 52. While at JSU, Kennard maintained full-time employment as a nurse at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital.
For two years, the single father of four boys traveled to Jackson from Atlanta for Monday night classes, staying in the city until Thursday. Then, he would return to the Peach state for his 12-hour weekend shifts at Emory.
Paige praised JSU for changing lives of individuals such as Kennard just as “education made my transformation possible.” As he looked back on his own life, Paige particularly credited the people at Jackson State, saying “they coached me and guided me.”