Jocelyn Jackson ’96: Community organizer cooks up social change

Jocelyn Jackson ’96 integrates food, art, and social justice as a community organizer and founder of the JUSTUS Kitchen in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the cofounder of the People’s Kitchen Collective based out of Oakland, California. By creating family-style meals served as personalized public meals, she provides opportunities for healing experiences that inspire positive social change.

Jackson holds a photograph of her great-grandmother Lovely.

Jackson holds degrees in art from Cornell and law from Washburn University. She also has a master’s of science degree in environmental education from Audubon Expedition Institute through Lesley University. She worked for several law firms and then joined the Peace Corps, where she served for two years in the West African country of Mali. She also taught in an ecovillage in Southern India before working for a health and social conscious catering company.

“Building community relies on trust and vulnerability, so a shared meal is a truly beautiful opportunity to invite people into the process and purpose of creating intentional community connections that last,” Jackson says. “The work I do is built on the legacy of many ancestors and cultural-political organizations that came before me.”

Jackson credits the Black Panther Party for Self Defense as one of those legacy organizations that set the stage for her work today. The Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast program served, at its height, over 20,000 children each day before school.

Cornell also provides a legacy to build on, she says. She remembers a dinner she cooked for friends that was served in the common room at Merner before they went to see a music performance in Cedar Rapids. Looking back, she can see she was initiating an intentional practice that encouraged a caring community.

“My time at Cornell taught me so much about the importance of cultivating a culture of care,” Jackson says.

“As a resident assistant, I experienced one of the most difficult heartaches of my life as I helped a resident navigate the aftermath of a sexual assault. And while a part of the Multicultural Committee, the students of color were deeply present for one another as we attempted to create emotional and physical safety on a predominantly white campus. There were so many instances of students catalyzing solidarity and empowerment in order to thrive.”

Another legacy Jackson incorporates into her work is singing grace or other songs before meals, something she has done since childhood. She sings a song for the people gathered no matter how small or large the gathering might be.

“I will sing a song to honor our choice to come together to share a meal, learn from each other’s lived experiences, and commit to taking action to create the inclusive, intersectional, and liberated world we desire.”