When Ernest Jackson retired from John Deere Dubuque Works after a long career, he could have moved anywhere.

After all, he grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and had lived in several other places in the Midwest. He already had given back to his Dubuque community for decades, through philanthropy and the sharing of his time as a mentor.

No one would have begrudged him and his wife, Peggy, some well-deserved time to themselves.

But that wasn’t the future Ernest Jackson saw for himself. He had more to give. And he knew he could make the biggest difference right here in Dubuque.

Jackson had built a life here. As he worked his way up the ranks of leadership at John Deere, he established a name for himself. That name was synonymous with integrity, benevolence and work ethic. He had laid a foundation of good works that extended far beyond his workplace.

Jackson saw the next chapter of his life as an opportunity to continue to work and to serve his community, making a difference in the lives of young people in need of a role model.

He started Ernest Jackson Painting, a business in which he could take on young employees, teaching them a trade, and mentoring them along the way. Working with young people is a skill Jackson has honed over years in Dubuque. Starting in 2000 with a program begun by a colleague, Doug Bausch, called “Yes, You Can,” he joined with others to mentor young students and encourage them to expect more from their lives.

Over time, Jackson saw a specific need for Black male role models for young men of color. Jackson saw something of himself in the young men growing up in Dubuque. He had grown up in inner-city Cincinnati in a neighborhood of working-class people. Among the men in his neighborhood, there were no professionals, no government officials, no teachers to look up to. In Dubuque, he encountered young men who needed to know that life had more to offer them than perhaps what they saw at the moment.

In 2009, he was a founding member of Dubuque Black Men Coalition, which seeks to improve the local quality of life through activities such as mentoring high school students, taking young men on college tours and teaching young people about being responsible community members. The organization helps make Dubuque a place of opportunity for all people.

Over the years, the Telegraph Herald First Citizen Award has become the premiere honor bestowed in this community. Over more than a half-century, those honored have included businesspeople, educators, religious leaders and volunteers who have spent their money and their time making the greater Dubuque community better.

In this 52nd giving of the TH First Citizen Award, Ernest Jackson earns this honor for his leadership, his selflessness and his mentoring. That he chose to mentor those who need it most, at a time when they need it most, in a place with a void that needs filling is a testament to the kind of man Jackson is and his ability to see need in our community. Jackson has made Dubuque a better place, and the trail he has blazed will be his legacy.

We are proud to present the 2021 TH First Citizen Award to Ernest Jackson. May our community reap the benefits of your good works for years to come.

Editorials reflect the consensus of the Telegraph Herald Editorial Board.

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