CHICAGO (CBS) — The Rev. Jesse Jackson on Friday revealed that he has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
“Throughout my career of service, God has kept me in the embrace of his loving arms, and protected me and my family from dangers, seen and unseen. Now in the latter years of my life, at 76 years old, I find it increasingly difficult to perform routine tasks, and getting around is more of a challenge,” Jackson said in a statement.
Jackson said he started to notice changes in his health about three years ago. He also released a Northwestern Medicine letter saying he was diagnosed in 2015 and has since sought outpatient care
“After a battery of tests, my physicians identified the issue as Parkinson’s disease, a disease that bested my father,” Jackson said.
“Recognition of the effects of this disease on me has been painful, and I have been slow to grasp the gravity of it. For me, a Parkinson’s diagnosis is not a stop sign but rather a signal that I must make lifestyle changes and dedicate myself to physical therapy in hopes of slowing the disease’s progression.”
Reaction from local leaders came quickly. To Mayor Emanuel, and to all of Chicago, the revelation came as a shock.
“I just heard the news about Reverend Jackson,” he said.
But to those closest to Rev. Jackson, there were troubling signs.
His voice, once a booming trumpet, was softer. His speech, often slurred.
These comments on street violence came last July 4th weekend.
“Drugs in, guns in, jobs out, more on these streets than Iraq,” he said.
“Those of us who’ve been close to Rev. Jackson have noticed some of the signs and were afraid that might be the case,” said Representative Danny Davis.
Father Michael Pfleger was saddened.
“He has been a long term civil rights activist from the movement until today,” said Pfleger. “And to have him stuck with a disease like this that’s such a difficult disease, is difficult to hear.”
Since he arrived in Chicago at age 25, marching in Marquette Park with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jackson has been at the forefront of racial justice.
He founded Operation Breadbasket then Operation Push and twice, unsuccessfully, campaigning for President.
And paving the way for another black Chicagoan to finally reach the White House.
“It’s a very sad day. Rev. Jackson has always been a trailblazer,” said Ald. Walter Burnett. “He has broken a lot of glass ceilings.”
“While Parkinson’s may be a physical condition, it will never break Rev. Jackson’s spiritual commitment to justice and his ability to continue to be a voice for those whose voices are not heard,” said Mayor Emanuel.