Difference Maker: Jesse White

Jesse White Tumblers
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, founder of the Jesse White Tumblers Photo credit Jesse White Tumblers

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) - Jesse White is well-known for his lifetime of public service, which includes being the longest serving Illinois Secretary of State. He was elected 1998 and was the first African American to hold the office. But, it's his community service with The Jesse White Tumblers that has changed and possibly saved the lives of thousands of at-risk children and teens.

"This program has served as the light of the end of the tunnel, the safety net for a lot of these young people," White said.

Started in 1959 to provide a positive alternative for inner-city kids, the tumblers perform their high-flying gymnastic and acrobatic shows at community and sporting events, not only in Illinois but across the U.S. and internationally.

The only things White asks of team members are they stay away from gangs, drugs, and alcohol and maintain a C average in school.

Jesse White Tumblers
Jesse White Tumblers in action Photo credit Jesse White Tumblers

"I want to put good people out into the world, and less than 15 out of my 18,000 young people have gotten themselves into trouble with law,” White noted.

One of those success stories is 60-year-old Richard Blackmon Jr. who became a tumbler in 1967 as a kindergartener and vividly remembered how White made him and others believe anything was possible.

"He'd show us the homes up in Evanston, and he'd say you could have any of this stuff you want as long as you go to school, as long as you keep your nose clean. You can have anything you want. I don’t care what anybody else says. It gave me a sense of hope," Blackmon said.

Jesse White Tumblers
Richard Blackmon Jr., (left) a former tumbler, credits Jesse White (right) with saving his life. Photo credit Mai Martinez

Blackmon credited the Tumblers and Jesse White in particular with saving his life.

"...Because without him there is no me. Everything that I do is done with him in mind," Blackmon added.

White's final term as Secretary of State will end in January but not his role with The Jesse White Tumblers.

"I’ll be with them as long as there’s life within me," White said.

Jesse White Tumblers
Jesse White started his famed Jesse White Tumblers group in 1959. Photo credit Jesse White Tumblers

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Jesse White Tumblers