Full disclosure: We’re taking over Gilda’s column this month. One of the League’s Thanksgiving traditions is to put together a blog post that celebrates all the things we’re grateful for. But when it comes down to it, we’re pretty much in agreement that we’re MOST grateful for our leader. You may have heard that Gilda was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame last month. We were so proud to celebrate this achievement with her, and we wanted to share with you the tribute that our board chair Charley Ballard shared that night, as well as Gilda’s acceptance speech.
Charley Ballard, Chair, Michigan League for Public Policy Board of Directors:
“Gilda has had an amazing career in her service to the people of Michigan. She was on her city commission, then the Oakland County commission, then the Michigan Legislature in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. And she has advocated for her entire life on behalf of people in Michigan who are disadvantaged.
Gilda has that drive, Gilda has that special something. I don’t think you can teach it. I think either you have it or you don’t. And Gilda has it.
After earning her bachelor’s and her master’s from the University of Michigan, Gilda Jacobs worked with students in the special education program at the Madison Heights School District, and then she worked for 15 years for JARC, the Jewish Association for Residential Care, for persons with developmental disabilities. In fact, people with disabilities have been a focus of Gilda’s career throughout. When she was in the Legislature, she advocated for better funding for special education in our schools.
She was term-limited out of the Legislature, but the Michigan Legislature’s loss was the gain of the Michigan League for Public Policy, which is the organization she has headed for most of this decade as president and CEO. As president of the Michigan League for Public Policy, Gilda has continued that fight for those who haven’t been as fortunate. And it’s been an uphill battle because often public policy in Michigan and elsewhere in recent decades has tilted in favor of the very affluent.
We haven’t won every battle, but with Gilda’s leadership we’ve been a key part of the fight. In 2011 there was a very real chance that the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps low and middle income working families in Michigan, would have been eliminated entirely. Partly because of the work of the League and Gilda’s leadership, it was not eliminated. Gilda has worked on the Raise the Age initiative, so that 17-year-olds would not be tried as adults in Michigan courts, which was a big victory.
She’s been a connector. She’s been someone who has encouraged women and men—but especially women—who are thinking about taking the leap, taking the risk, of going into a career in public service. It is a risk. Gilda took those risks and she has encouraged other women to take the leap and get into the fray, including Elissa Slotkin, who is actually my representative in the United States Congress. Gilda encouraged her to run for Congress in 2018 and Elissa Slotkin won in Michigan’s 8th District. Michiganders are a lot better off—especially Michiganders with lower incomes and Michiganders with disabilities—because of Gilda Jacobs. Tonight we are so proud to see her inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.”
Gilda’s Acceptance Speech:
“Thank you for this honor and I am humbled to be on stage with my sister honorees, both tonight and those that received this honor in the past.
I was told to keep my speech under three minutes and be inspiring. Well, you can never tell an ex-legislator to keep anything under three minutes, let alone be inspiring!
But I thought long and hard, and decided to speak instead about the people who have inspired me.
To put my life in context, you have to first understand that I’m a product of the 60’s when the Vietnam War was raging, women were burning bras, my college friends and I were participating in panty raids at Stockwell dormitory at U of M, sit-ins for racial justice were commonplace, and race riots left Detroit in distress for decades. All of this influenced my path to try to make the world a little better place.
I was inspired by both my maternal and paternal grandparents who came through Ellis Island from Eastern Europe to flee religious persecution searching for the American dream in a country where they spoke no English and had few skills and no formal education. I am sure that they never in a million years would have imagined that their granddaughter, a first-generation American, would be inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of fame.
My dad inspired me to appreciate the importance of close friends who you can trust with anything. He sometimes asked his clients to financially support my runs for office instead of paying their accounting bills from him.
My mom inspired me to work in a man’s world and showed me that women can be as successful (and even more successful) than men.
My children, Rachel and Jessica, inspired me to be the best mom I could be and hopefully I, in turn, inspired them to be the amazing women they grew into.
I am inspired by my grandchildren, Jacob, Lyle and Ruby who love me unconditionally, even when I fall asleep reading them a bedtime story.
My husband, John, has always stood by my side. I was inspired by the support he gave me when I made decisions to take chances and risks … when I changed jobs, ran for office and took on new challenges both professionally and personally. And I am grateful that he is with me tonight after celebrating 48 years of marriage together.
I am inspired by women who were trailblazers in the Legislature, like Representative Maxine Berman, who among other amazing things, was responsible for the women’s bathroom at the back of the House chamber. And Senator Shirley Johnson, my colleague on the other side of the aisle, who was open about the family challenges she experienced with her son who suffered from mental illness and her passion to take her personal experience and help lead the fight for mental health parity.
The incredible staffs that I have been privileged to work with at JARC, the Legislature and now the League inspired me every day they came to work—eager to change the world, little by little, to make it a better place.
But I think I am most inspired by my extended family of friends, co-workers, community and sometimes strangers who have wrapped their love around me and my family when we have faced unbelievable personal challenges. Many of those folks are here tonight and I thank them for making me stronger and a better person every single day.
I draw on all of this experience and inspiration every day as I continue to work to create a better Michigan for all, including women. I hope that I have in some way inspired others to be change agents and to have compassion and patience in the process. Thank you once again for this incredible honor.”
First Tuesday readers, thank you for allowing us to take over Gilda’s column this month. As you might imagine, we could write volumes about her service to Michigan and the energy she puts into her work. We’re hopeful that she’ll forgive us for forcing her into the spotlight for a bit.
The staff of the Michigan League for Public Policy
P.S. Gilda would be the first to thank you for all the support you give the League. She’d also want to remind you that it’s Giving Tuesday, and that your gift today can make an impact on the League’s work all year long!