KIRKSVILLE — Returning to campus after serving as the nation's leader in the Department of Housing and Urban Development and seven years of serving on Truman State's Board of Governors, alumnus Alphonso Jackson brought with him a few mementos of his accomplishments.
Pictures, signatures, medallions and an old Truman State yearbook might not sound like monumental or special artifacts, but for Jackson they're reminders of a career in public service that began as a track athlete and political science student at then-Northeast Missouri State University and ended with four years on President George W. Bush's Cabinet as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The pictures include Jackson and luminaries including Presidents Bush and Bill Clinton; the signatures include those of the U.S. Supreme Court justices, in particular that of Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, who issued the oath of office to Jackson in 2004; the yearbook is from Jackson's time as a track star and student at what would become Truman State University.
"This university made an impact on my life and I hope when people see the exhibit, they know they too can have an impact on this country," Jackson said before a ceremony unveiling the special collection he donated to Truman State from his four years serving at the national level.
Jackson was in Kirksville recently, along with his wife Marcia and one of his two daughters, Lesley, to mark the donation. He was heralded as a role model for all of Truman and portrayed as an example of what each and every Truman student could and should strive for in their lives, said Richard Coughlin, dean of libraries and museums at Truman.
"(Jackson) had many choices of where to deposit his gifts," Coughlin said during the unveiling ceremony. "We hope these serve as points of inspiration for our students. We want each of our students to be Alphonso Jacksons. We want them to find their passion and push it to the limit."
Jackson attended what would become Truman State and graduated with an undergraduate degree in political science in 1968 and a master's degree in education administration in 1969. He would go on to earn a juris doctorate from Washington University.
Politics was an early passion for Jackson, who started by helping run local political campaigns and races across Missouri including that of former-Sen. John Danforth out of St. Louis County.
Jackson was appointed as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Bush from 2004 to 2008 after serving as deputy secretary of HUD from 2001 to 2004.
Jackson then went on to become director of Hampton University's Center for Public Policy and Leadership until 2012 and he currently serves as the vice chairman of mortgage banking for JP Morgan in New York City.
During his time on campus, Jackson spoke to several political science classes and implored them to participate in politics to help bring the focus on proper governance at the national level.
"No matter what party or candidate, get out and vote," he said of his message for the students. "Make sure your vote counts."
"A lot of sacrifices have been made, lots done to make sure you have the ability to participate."
Jackson went on to refer to sacrifices, whether it was the sacrifices made during the Civil Rights Movement in the '60s, during which he took part in the infamous 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery, Ala., march that became known as Bloody Sunday, to the sacrifices of his parents who worked hard to ensure all 12 children were provided for.
"I'm living the American dream because my father believed in the American Dream," Jackson said. "The key is being educated and being smart."
Jackson, a Republican, lamented the lack of what he called "true governance" from Washington since his departure, but noted partisanship is nothing new in politics.
"We've had political rancor in our country for the last 20 years," he said. "Has it exacerbated, yes. We've become so polarized in this country. (...) I don't want to be involved anymore."
Despite throwing off politics in favor of the private sector in 2008 following allegations of improper contract awarding and politically motivated decisions, Jackson said he believes the nation's lawmakers had missed sight of what he viewed as an all-important question.
"We need to ask, what is in the best interests of our country?" he said. He spoke in favor of reducing government assistance for people mentally and physically capable of earning a living wage but said that the government has a responsibility to provide "safe and sanitary housing" especially for senior citizens who have been paying taxes all their lives.
"If you can't account for your money, you can't serve human beings very well," he said of his focus on HUD's financial operations. "We still need to address homelessness in a holistic way."
And the admitted Republican said he did not view a national crisis within the Republican Party, simply saying he believed the GOP needs to address immigration reform and "stay out of people's bedrooms."
"It's not important what people do in there," he said.
Republicans also need to focus on the issues, Jackson said, rather than preying on people's fears.
"I haven't met a Republican that doesn't care about women. I haven't met a Republican that doesn't care about low-income people," he said. "I'm not disheartened at all (by support for Democrats)."
The Secretary Alphonso Jackson Collection and its about 75 pieces will be on exhibit until Feb. 22, after which it will be retained by the university and used for special collections and exhibits.