For more than 20 years, Rochelle Jackson has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of black women in Pittsburgh. And she’s just getting started.

Named one of the 25 Essential Pittsburghers by NEXTpittsburgh, Jackson recently received a $25,000 seed grant from the Women and Girls Foundation (WGF) to launch the Black Women’s Policy Agenda. Matching funds are being accepted to support the initiative.

“The whole goal is to create a better environment and make a place that’s much more livable,” says Jackson, a single mother who raised four children. “For it to be successful and impactful it needs to have a good foundation. My role is to facilitate that.”

The grant announcement coincided with the release of the City of Pittsburgh Gender Equity Commission report examining inequality across gender and race in areas such as health, income, employment and education.

One of the disturbing disparities that University of Pittsburgh researchers found is that our black maternal mortality rate is higher than 97 percent of other cities.

Jackson wasn’t surprised by the statistics but is more determined than ever to understand and address the issues at hand.

On Oct. 31, she left her role as WGF’s Femisphere Project Director to give full-time attention to developing the Black Women’s Policy Agenda.

Photo courtesy of Rochelle Jackson.

She aims to elevate the great work already being done by organizations such as Gwen’s Girls and New Voices for Reproductive Justice.

By working with local leaders, human services agencies and black women throughout the region, Jackson hopes to create a coalition greater than the sum of its parts.

Jackson is building a steering committee to help her identify priority areas. By early next year, she hopes to have a website and possibly, an official headquarters where people can gather. In the meantime, she welcomes you to email her with questions and concerns regarding the Black Women’s Policy Agenda at [email protected].

“It’s the first time we as a city have ever done anything like this,” she says. “I’m excited about it.”