In 2008, Jack and Jill of America, a social organization for black families, celebrated its 70th anniversary. But the organization is not open to just any family. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear Jack & Jill? Bougie? Upper crust? Well-to-do?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Jack & Jill, here’s a brief background: Several upper class mothers from Philadelphia created the organization in 1938 to ensure that their children were exposed to the best social, cultural and educational experiences. Simply put, the mothers wanted their children to meet and interact with other youth from a similar socio-economic background.
When I was a student in elementary school, many of my classmates were members of Jack and Jill. They were the sons and daughters of doctors, dentists, lawyers, politicians and entrepreneurs. I remember one classmate in Jack and Jill whose father was a prominent doctor in D.C. He invited the whole 6th grade class to his house for a party. I was in awe. They had a basketball court, tennis court, a pool and luxury cars. A few years ago, I read that he’s now a doctor, and married to a fellow Jack and Jill member. In case you’re wondering, no, I'm not a member of Jack and Jill. In order to “get in,” you had to be sponsored by an existing family - and that invitation never came. My mother was an English teacher and my dad an accountant. He was adamant that his daughters didn’t need that type of social group.
For many Jack and Jill families, I’m sure they would say being a member definitely has its advantages. So much so that Lawrence Otis Graham, an author who has written extensively about the black upper class, says you’re insane if you don’t try to get your kids into Jack and Jill. (He’s also a third generation member.) Graham has recently written an article about the organization for Uptownlife.net that I found very interesting:
“Since 1938, Jack and Jill has been one of those groups that have remained important to the black community, while simultaneously being almost invisible to most mainstream America. The organization's officers and members insist that they are not elitist. However, the group's past and present roster of members include the most prominent and wealthiest black families in virtually every major city or suburb in the U.S.
...While not a secret society, Jack and Jill does not seek or embrace publicity. Put simply, it is an invitation-only membership organization for black families where mothers are the official members, and children are the principal beneficiaries. There are more than 200 chapters around the country and it is not easy to join. There is no application or 800 number to call; you have to be sponsored by a family who already belongs. The only other way to get in is to marry someone who grew up in the organization.”
As this blog is dedicated to philanthropy in the black community, I'd like to point out that in the article, Graham cites one of the main reasons why parents should want their kids to join - that they'll learn how to give back to others who are less fortunate. I think it would have been great if Mr. Graham shared stories of members who grew up in Jack and Jill that are now giving back. So if you're a member or you know of a Jack and Jill member who gives of their time, talent and treasure to benefit their community, send me an email at blackgivesback[at]gmail.com. I'd love to hear from you!
Read Graham's article here.