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Chester County Press

Jackie Caleb named “hometown hero”At Governor Shapiro’s inauguration

02/28/2023 12:42AM ● By Steven Hoffman

“Miss Jackie is our hero.” 

That was the sentiment expressed time and again by Lincoln University students as they prepared their letter to nominate Jackie Caleb as their “Hometown Hero.”

Leading up to the January inauguration of Josh Shapiro and Austin Davis, the Shapiro-Davis Inaugural Committee held a series of four interactive contests that would give community members a chance to be part of the inauguration of Pennsylvania’s next governor and lieutenant governor. 

One of those contests was “Hometown Hero” and the public was encouraged to nominate someone who has contributed to the community. 

Jackie Caleb was nominated by Lincoln University students and won. 

“I was amazed, to say the least, that students even thought of me as a ‘hometown hero,’” Caleb said.

The letter was written by four Lincoln University students, who Caleb said are members of Lincoln University PA College Democrats plus so much more. The students who nominated Caleb are:

MaKenzie Hanks  

2025 Class President

Student Advocacy Committee chairperson

Lower Oxford East Democratic Committee person

Lincoln University PA College Democrat outreach director

Tamia Johnson

Class of 2025 deputy of communications

Admissions Student Ambassador

Vice President Lincoln University PA College Democrats

Hashone Carry

Class of 2025 Secretary

Videographer/photographer/graphic designer

President, Lincoln University PA College Democrats

Drake Smith

Executive President Student Government Association

Lincoln University PA College Democrats Member

Lincoln University Trivia Team member

School Board member in Maryland

The letter that was sent by Lincoln University students and signed by Drake Smith, Executive President, Student Government Association at Lincoln University of Pennsylvania said it all: 

“Mrs. Jacqueline Bryant Caleb, affectionately known simply as, Ms. Jackie, has served as a mentor, advisor, life coach, confidant, and motherly figure to scores of students at Lincoln University of Pennsylvania. She does all this simply because it is the right thing to do. She does not receive any type of salary, stipend, or any other benefits from the university. She lives up to the biblical definition of a “cheerful giver.” Her story of giving to the students began when she first moved to the neighborhood behind Lincoln University 40 years ago. Back then her neighbors were mostly the faculty and staff at Lincoln. Their love of Lincoln was infectious and soon spread to her entire household. Her family would always go to campus events or take evening strolls on the campus. And 40 years later her love for Lincoln is stronger than ever. It’s hard to believe that she is an alumnus of Temple University. She has housed, fed, and clothed students countless times. We can call on Ms. Jackie early in the morning or in the middle of the night for anything we need. But her true accomplishment is her life’s work of civic engagement. Ms. Jackie believes that every student at Lincoln should “vote like hell!” Growing up in Philadelphia and being a child of the 60’s she knows firsthand the struggles that African Americans had to face in order to vote. Her father took part in the 1963 March on Washington. Ms. Jackie has easily registered over 5,000 students to vote at Lincoln over her 30 plus years of civic engagement with the OxGrove Democrats as a member and a committee person. It is not uncommon to see Ms. Jackie in the dining hall or dormitories registering students to vote with the Lincoln University College Democrats. She is unmistakable with her trademark Lincoln Lions tote bag full of clipboards, pens, and voter registration material. She never complains and with every student she registers to vote, she is just as excited as if it were her own child registering. Ms. Jackie was the critical factor in suing to keep Lincoln's Polling place on campus. She would leave work to go to court or write op-eds in the local papers. And because of her Lincoln students vote on campus at the International Cultural Center (ICC). Every election day (not just the presidential elections) she organizes vans to take students to the ICC to vote. And she caters food for them as well. When she is not registering students to vote or chauffeuring students to different community events she serves as a lay leader at the Oxford Presbyterian Church. She has been a member since moving to the greater Oxford area. She is often reading or preparing materials for various different church events or committees. And between all these other commitments she still manages to be a neighbor, friend, and caretaker for her 96-year-old neighbor Ms. Dorthea Murray. They often enjoy musical performances at Lincoln or Longwood Gardens. Ms. Jackie retired from the University of Delaware’s Bursar’s office in 2007. But then came out of retirement to work at the Jennersville branch of BB&T Bank. She retired in 2016. She cared for her mother and father until their respective passings in the last five years. Her passion for Lincoln students and her friends is what keeps her going. She often has more energy than the 18-22 year-olds that she works with. Ms. Jackie is the most deserving person in “Chester County to be deserving of the recognition of “Hometown Hero.”

To those that know her, like Etha McDowell, Caleb was always a hometown hero and inspiration to so many.

“Jackie Caleb is a force of nature,” McDowell explained. “The experiences she has had in her life have made her a remarkable person who gives freely to others. It is just second-nature to her. I met her through politics and church. She has dealt with so many losses: the loss of her nephew in 2001, and one year later, while the family was recovering from that loss, they lost their beautiful young daughter Leidda.

“She continued to care for so many, while dealing with her own grief. Jackie and another local resident, Nancy Andress joined forces and presented a program at many different Presbyterian Churches,” McDowell said.

Caleb said that she and Andress took anti-racism training for Presbyterian women in 2003 and 2004.

“We were unique back then, in that I was black and Nancy was white and we went to the same church,” Caleb said. “We also represented different age groups. We travelled together to many different churches and talked. We had conversations with other Presbyterian women about how we all make assumptions about people, the disparity of persons, issues of inequality and social justice. We did that for about 8 years, and then sadly the program just died down.”

McDowell also remembered Caleb being involved in Compassionate Friends, which is an international organization designed to help those grieving for the loss of a child, sibling, or a grandchild. She is still the leader of the Chester County Chapter which meets in West Grove.

Caleb has had much loss over the years. In a period of about 19 years, she lost seven family members, including a daughter, husband, mother, brother, brother-in-law, dad, and nephew.

Instead of withdrawing, she has chosen to go out and thrive in her new life. 

“The Compassionate Friends is really why I function at all,” she said. “TCF was literally a lifeline for me after Leidda’s death. It was the place where people really knew what I was feeling. The group helped me and that is why I do this, to be sure TCF is here for other bereaved parents. Once you walk through it, you are a different person. Your life is different from then on. You have to learn to embrace your new life in order to thrive.”

And embrace her life is exactly what she did. She helped others learn how to embrace their new life.

Caleb continues to thrive by helping others, whether it was dealing with grief, or in registering to vote. She has been a Democratic Committee woman since 1998. She is committed to stressing the importance of voting.

Much of what she does is based on what she learned from her father, Osten Bryant, who actually marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. and thousands of others, on Aug. 28, 1963.

“Because my dad was part of the March on Washington, I grew up believing you vote every election,” she said. “After he retired, he opened a bar and operated it until he was 90. At his request, I made signs to remind people to register and vote, which he posted in the bar. He would ask people if they were registered when they visited. My dad died three years ago.”

Caleb recalled a picnic at Etha McDowell and Jim Sumner’s house one Memorial Day. 

“My father was there, and then the conversation turned to the March on Washington. It was an historical moment. Also, there was Dr. Richard Winchester, Connie Winchester and Dorothea Murray, whose husband was Rev. Andrew Murray. Suddenly, they realized they had all participated in the March on Washington.”

She continued, “My dad always wondered who those white people were who participated in the March. That day I got to introduce him to a few of them. It was one of the best gifts I ever gave him. What an awesome memory.”

She added, “When dad was in his 80s we went to the Constitution Center. When Martin Luther King’s speech came on and my dad was immediately back at the March. Later we had a long talk about the March. He talked about the fact that white people were in the March as well. He said every person attending the March was putting their life on the line. My dad was worried if he would have a job at the end of the day. I remember my normally calm, laid back mother, paced all day. My dad wondered who the white people were that attended because they were also in danger. Years later he realized that there were just enough white people so the police could not release the dogs or turn hoses on the marchers.

“When we look at pictures of the March on Washington it looks calm and friendly, and it was, but all the marchers who went there were terrified and apprehensive. The march looked wonderful and I am happy that it did not get violent. I want students to understand what it meant for people to attend the march. All those people put their lives on the line so we can vote.

They all feared the dogs and hoses but they went anyway. Knowing this drives what I do.”

Sitting on that stage for the inauguration was an honor for her, but she wondered what her father would think.

“I was excited to see an inauguration,” she explained.  “I’ve never been to one. That was a big life moment for me. Voting is important to me. Doing voter registration is a non-partisan activity. I want people, especially young people of color, to vote and to understand the power of vote. I thank Dorothea Murray for getting me to become a committee person. I thank Jim Sumner for bringing me to the Oxford Presbyterian Church too. It was their sense of social justice from Jim, Dick and Dorothea that got me to join OPC. As I was sitting on the stage watching the inauguration, I could feel my father grinning. I told him, ‘this is for you dad.’”

Jackie Caleb is a hometown hero, shaped by her family, friends and even grief. And all those things, together, enable her to thrive.