Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jack and Jill of America: 70 Years Later

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.

Photo: Uptownlife.net

22 comments:

M or M said...

i read graham's book, and it was really interesting, just a lil baised. And the people who are apart of those societies are often upset about how he portrayed htem. but some of it is true! i mean one of friends has 6million worth of black art in his house in philly, he is a j&jer, but the nicest 20 yrs guy you will ever meet, why because is personality is a relfection of his parent. And the parents are nice.

I am from Philadelphia, and I know MOST of the J&J ers from philly, the 2007 east coast regional president, the ones from maryland, etc, i know alot, and they are not at all bougie.
the boys happen to be reallly nice, especially the parents!
and my best friends were in j&j! soo idk the stereotypes range... and i come from a middle class family, and they didnt care. like we all have the same gaols, we are all smart and have something to add to this society.

Also, alot of other black do not even know about the society, so what does it matter, if you are not going to recruit people who actually matter. we need to stop dividing oursleves into groups.

ps. the word Bougie has changed over the years. as a poli. sci major...

Tracey said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences because it is a stereotype that J&Jers are "bougie" or uppity.

And you're right, alot of blacks have never even heard of the organization. I received an email from a reader saying that was the first time she had ever heard of them.

M or M said...

no problem! :)

Anonymous said...

Do you have to be a doctor or lawyers to get your daughter in a excellent organization. How do you enroll?

Tracey said...

^^To Anonymous Friend: To get in, you must be sponsored by an existing family who is a member. But there are other organizations you can look into for your daughter. Check out after school programs in your community.

Anonymous said...

I am a J&J member in the Southeast U.S., and speaking for my family and most of the members in my chapter, we are not doctors, lawyers or wives of doctors and lawyers. Our common goal is to meet with other families with similar values, interests, and life experiences - and above all, to preserve the strength of the traditional family bond within our community. I have found that most of our members are very active in the community - both individually, and through our regular chapter service projects (in addition to our regular full-time jobs). Some, like myself, are mentors in the schools, and regular volunteers with other organizations in the community. Some are teachers and administrators in the school system. Each of our age-groups (beginning at a very young age) is required to perform community service projects every year! Our chapters (of mothers) regularly donate time, money, and resources to many local and national organizations and we want the Black community to recognize that we are not a "dividing" force at all...we are an organization of families, dedicated to each other, but who are also working for the common good.

Anonymous said...

My aunt is a novelist of some notoriety, especially in the black community. She lives in a rather elite DC suburb. Her son is in JJ, but not her daughter because as she is deaf and there are no other interpreters or deaf children, it has little to offer her. My aunt might be a little "bougie," especially if you ask my brother (who is only my father's child and therefore not related to my aunt) but her son is about as far as you can get from that, owing partially, I believe, to his background before he and his sister were adopted by my aunt. Nonetheless, I would not be quick to stereotype J & Jers as "uppity" or "bougie."

Anonymous said...

Is this group really trying to help the less fortunate and our entire race or are they trying to help themselves while clearing their moral conscience by "helping" people who would never be invited to join their elitist group?? This seems snobbish and prejudiced. I happen come from a wealthy background however I was raised to learn from and connect with all people; not only those with the same socio-economic status. What secret society publishes multiple sites about themselves? That's laughable. "Attend my events to empower our community but you can't join the organization". That would be funny if it wasn't so offensive. I have lived within the upper middle class my entire life but never experienced the type of prejudice we have within our own race. At least be smart enough to keep your secret society a secret. How Jim Crow of you.

Anonymous said...

my boys were invited to join, and I turned down the invitation.I figured out they could achieve more as Boys Scouts. Today, I have a Princeton or Harvard bound Eagle Scout that I'm very proud of. I think as African Americans, our boys will far better in Scouts. They need to start working early with the people, they will be working with in real life

Anonymous said...

The Feb 24th Comment is obviously from someone who misunderstands the organization. Jack and Jill is not a secret society and was never meant to be one.

Actually, we work on pubishing information about our organization because it is often misunderstood and we want the corrent info to be available to anyone interested.

Also, we don't simply decide that disadvantaged people cannot join. Membership is open to anyone invited by a member of the group who goes through the selection process. We don't know their income levels. However, because our dued are expensive and our activities are expensive, economically disadvantaged people may not want to join. We have discussed sponsoring families by paying for their dues and activity fees, but we thought it might feel uncomfortable for that family or their children. We are not trying to clean our conscience. We aren't sitting in mansions and writing checks to churches and missions....we are packing our kids into cars and busses and getting out into the community.

No matter what we do, some people will think it is never enough.

Anonymous said...

Responding to Anon March 4, 2010:

btw, A third way that a person can become a member of J&J: Get together with 24 other families that would like to form your own J&J chapter.

Regarding my family's involvement with J&J; We live in a very nice suburban area with not many other Blacks. I am joining not only so that my kids get involved with community service, but also so that they can develop close, lasting friendships with other like minded Black children similar of similar backgrounds.

This is something that when my son joined Boy Scouts he was not able to have due to the fact that there were hardly any other Black kids in the scouts. I have many friends that are in the J&J organization and they have all said how beneficial it has been for their families. I have also seen how much work they have done in the community - HANDS ON volunteering. I think you really have to have a heart for it when you do hands on work. If it were simply to relieve your conscience regarding your socio-economic status, you would just write a check and keep it moving.

Anonymous said...

Doing research on JJ. my best friend and her family are members. we went to the same high school. She always enjoyed the activities. i always felt like this group was un fair, to other blacks. now my parents made okay money, middle class i guess but it just seemed to be for the upper class. now i see why people would want to have their own secret society or club and i know you say ur not but it just leaves out a whole demographic of blacks. like the fact that you can not become a member unless you are invited by a existing family, but what if you dont know any? why cant you as parents introduce an oppurtunity as great as JJ. dont all our children deserve to reap the benefits of what this organization can do? now my friend who now has children of her own says she wants to put her kids in JJ but feels out of place because she is a single mother struggling to make ends meet but still wants them to experience without so much grief. now sure there are other after school programs but nothing prestigious enough. funny shes atomatically invited to include her children because her parents were members but this is a group that by other means she would not be invited to be apart of.

Kimmie K. said...

Interesting comments. Nice article about J&J, especially given that the author is not a member. I grew up in J&J and still have relationships and connections with others who did so as well. Most that I know of have done well for themselves.

I am now married with 2 sons. We are not currently members for a variety of reasons but mostly because we are overscheduled. Given that I don't currently have an affilation with J&J, I was invited to judge 2 competitions (Humanitarian Award and Community Service Award) at the J&J teen regional conference, which is happening this weekend in my city. Teens from chapters across 3 states are attending.

When I arrived at the host hotel today and saw hundreds of black teens smartly dressed in their chapter T-shirts engaged in vigorous but civil competitions in persuasive speaking, visual art, drama, academic excellence, photography, demonstrated community service commitment, and music, I was reminded all of the wonderful experiences I had in J&J. I also felt that my boys could benefit from being around more black kids from similar families.

W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in his "Talented Tenth" essay that black Americans must develop “the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst.” J&Jers, by some accounts, are the "Talented Tenth."

pamcghee said...

I just found this blog and am delighted to have chanced upon it!

I was a Jack and Jiller in the
1950s and 1960s - Westchester County, New York Chapter.

I have lots of memories.

I'll stop in again.....

Pamela McGhee

Anonymous said...

I am a Jack and Jill member from Kansas, and from the outside looking in we may appear snobbish and uppity, but if you attend a Jack and Jill event or are able to join the organization you will meet some of the greatest people in the world. As I stated above I am a member and more specifically a teen, I live in upper middle class Kansas and I don't get a lot o contact with other black teens, so my J&J chapter is pretty much my family. If you can get your kids into Jack and Jill, please do, it's a wonderful experience that they will more than likely treasure forever.

Anonymous said...

I received an invitation to an invitational meeting of my local Jack and Jill of America Chapter. Can anyone explain what occurs at this meeting?

Anonymous said...

I am a child of NYC J&J and find it utterly hilarious that anyone says we are not bougie. I love J&J and all, but I think the idea that we are not bougie (at least in NY) is absurd. The thing is, you would have to as the average, non-J&J membered black person...which are the kind of black people most of us don't know.

We are the children of the elite
We go to the best (read:whitest) high schools
We go to the best (read: whitest) colleges
A lot of times our only black friends are each other

If J&J isn't [NYC] bougie, I don't know what is.

post script: hey to some of the homies pictured in this post.

Anonymous said...

I attended a prospective member informational meeting and the women were welcoming and humble. I was told my a friend who is a member on the east coast that the west coast chapters are open and less "old guard".

Anonymous said...

I also grew up as a child in NYC during the 60s. J&J was a notoriusly bougie, elitist and closely guarded secret. Additionally, in order even be considered you had to pass what was called the 'paper bag' test and have 'good hair'...meaning you couldn't be any darker skin-toned than a standard brown paper bag, and your hair definitely could show no sign of 'kitchen' or turn nappy/kinky in the event of a rain storm. So you can dress this up and pretend it's now a well-intentioned socio-economic organization if that gets you through the day. I know it differently from first hand real life experience....when you couldn't declare you lived in The Bronx, it had to be 'Riverdale'.

Anonymous said...

It's very commendable to have an organization that serves your childen, but it seems very elitist...if you're not part of the upper eschalon of the black community, you will be excluded. Oh well...all the best to you! I've never seen any of you where I grew up. Guess I'm not good enough.

Poetry of Motion! said...

It all seems so elitist...this is America, land of the free, so now we are free to exclude those who aren't rich enough to be part of us...oh well...

Anonymous said...

My dad and 2 aunts were part of j&j because of my grandmother. Well, i'm not a part of it because my dad is now a bus driver and my mom is an administrative assistant.. and they're divorced. Woop de do.