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 Jerry. With no other options, he was placed in the Allegheny County foster care system after being separated from his biological parents. Jerry was placed in a multiracial foster home with two white foster parents, Robert and Judy, who sheltered and took care of 11 children altogether. Eight of those children, including Jerry, were later adopted by Robert and Judy.
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, and 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.
Jerry knows first hand the challenges that so many families in Western Pennsylvania face. His lived experience has taught him about the systematic oppression that holds too many in the cycle of poverty they cannot escape. He knows decades of failed policies and practices have led to Pittsburgh being among the most segregated cities in the United States and home to the nation’s starkest racial disparities in health, income, education, and occupation. As a result, Pittsburgh has become America’s apartheid city and least livable region for Black Americans. We have arrived at this dire situation in large part due to inaction by state and federal elected officials for decades.
Today, the region is in dire need of a moral vision and new leadership to address this reality. Our collective moral imperative is to end Pittsburgh’s apartheid past and present and to become a world-class city of racial equality. That is our vision for Pittsburgh. That is our moral imperative. This is our plan.
As the next Congressman of the 18th Congressional District, Jerry has a 10-year plan to leverage the full weight of the federal government to pursue one of the nation’s boldest and most sweeping efforts to address and reverse decades of hardship with large-scale programs, legislation and incentives that are sustained over time and targeted at disadvantaged Black and Brown communities. This vision and plan is necessary to fully grapple with and address the pervasive inequities of the region.
As a father of two Black daughters, whether we choose to pursue this vision and embrace this imperative will be the defining characteristic of our generation.Jerry Dickinson