ASHLAND The site of 3032 Rail Road Avenue used to be a vacant lot in the east side of Ashland, a formerly prosperous neighborhood that has since fallen on hard times.
But Thursday afternoon, despite the heat and humidity, city officials, locals in the neighborhood and the family of one exceptional Ashland woman came out to that lot to christen a new community center and playground.
The Carol Jackson Unity Center is named in honor of the late Carol Jackson, an Ashland civil rights maverick who made history as the first Black woman to be elected to the city's independent school district board.
Commissioner Bernice Henry, a lifelong friend of Jackson's, said she and Jackson worked for years to resolve issues in education and housing for area residents, regardless of race. If Jackson was alive, Henry said she'd be tickled the city has done something positive for the east end.
“But she'd be humble about it,” Henry said. “She always wanted to do things behind the scenes, but she was a voice for people who didn't have a voice. One of her biggest issues was having a good place for people to live. A community center like this helps invest interest in the neighborhood and be a place where children can come to for something positive.”
Henry continued, “I hope this isn't just a building named after her. I hope this because a living legacy for her memory.”
Prior to having widower Charles Jackson cut the ribbon with king-sized scissors, Mayor Steve Gilmore said the center is part of an effort “to drag the east side of the city into what we're doing for the rest of the city.”
Before breaking ground on the project, Gilmore said the city had met with area residents, who stressed crime and safety as major concerns in the neighborhood. As a part of that effort, Gilmore said a police officer will be working out of the building.
But it isn't a police substation, according to Gilmore.
“This is supposed to be a place for people to come together and use it for how the neighborhood sees fit,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore then recalled working with Jackson in the Ashland school system — at one point, he choked up. He said, “if more of us were like Carol Jackson, we wouldn't need a police department.”
“This is not a community center, it's a unity center,” Gilmore said. “Because that's what Carol was about.”
Mylanda Jones, a daughter of Jackson's, said having the center named after her mother was “humbling.”
“It's humbling, exciting and makes you choked up with tears,” Jones said. “Her legacy is living on. She was the voice in an area where people didn't have one. She was always helping people find resources — now people can use this for resources. This is a hub, just like she was a hub in life.”
Jones said she hoped to see the center become “overwhelmed.”
“I want to see it grow not just for Ashland, but the whole Tri-State,” she said.
Bradley Jackson, a son of Jackson's, said the dedication of the center to his mother “brings me joy.”
“I feel blessed to have been raised by my mother and having this here allows her name and legacy to live on,” he said.
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