Jerry’s Story and Vision
Jerry’s pathway into politics is not typical. His mother was white, his father was Black, but both were unable to care for him. With no other options, he was placed in the Allegheny County foster care system and placed into a multiracial foster home with two white foster parents, Robert and Judy Dickinson. The Dickinson’s sheltered and took care of 11 children altogether. Eight of those children, including Jerry, were adopted.
Despite hundreds of thousands of well intentioned, loving and caring people, the foster care system in America far too often leads to poverty. Within four years of aging out, 50% have no earnings, and those who do make an average annual income of $7,500. Children are more likely to end up on government assistance than to graduate from college.
Through will and opportunity, however, Jerry wanted to break the trend.
At a very young age, he saw the impact of poverty, substance abuse and crime. He recognized the need for him to help support his siblings entering the juvenile justice system at too young of an age. He saw the impact the cycle of crime and poverty had on his family, and how unlikely they were to ever escape this terrible cycle. Jerry pledged to himself to not go down that same path, and through an unquestioned resolve, be the exception and not the rule.
Blessed with athletic ability, he was recruited to play Division 1 soccer at the College of the Holy Cross, serving as a three-year captain. An honors student in college, he went on to become a Fulbright Scholar to South Africa and committed himself to righting the wrongs that made his story so unlikely, here and abroad.
As a part of his Fulbright Scholarship in Johannesburg, South Africa, Jerry organized on behalf of poor South Africans whose inner-city slums and shanty towns were being gentrified by corporate developers. Jerry advocated for anti-displacement measures and constitutional rights to housing and clean water in South African courts.
When he returned to Pittsburgh, Jerry helped establish a community land trust in the Hill District neighborhood that has been affected by increased investment by corporate developers. He has been on the front lines assisting marginalized groups to preserve affordable housing and mitigate the effects of gentrification, while representing indigent tenants in eviction proceedings, litigating fair housing discrimination cases in state court, serving as legal counsel for activist groups fighting to transform violent police practices in Black and Brown communities, and representing a Black church in negotiating reparations. His pro-bono work has helped keep people in their homes, improve police practices and protect those too often left behind.
Today, Jerry is a constitutional law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, a husband, and a father to two girls. Now, he’s running as a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district. Jerry beat the odds and has dedicated his life to tackling the structural problems he has witnessed and lived through. In Congress, he will bring the energy and perspective needed to lift those left behind, and truly create opportunity for all.