Getting to Know: Yolanda Cash Jackson Lobbyist for Florida’s HBCUs Works the Capitol on Behalf of Minority Students
Yolanda Cash Jackson is one of only a handful of Black lobbyists for historically Black colleges and universities working the halls of the Florida state capitol in Tallahassee. At the time of this interview, a bill concerning funding was inching its way through the state Legislature.
“I have to go see if I can get my senator motivated,” she said. “I hope to be the spark that gets that bill through.”
So do the two HBCUs that she represents: Bethune-Cookman University and Florida Memorial University.
Snagging state funding is Jackson’s primary mission, and she stands behind some impressive numbers. In 1998, Florida’s HBCUs received a total of only $250,000 in state aid programs. Last year, they received a whopping $12 million. “That was the height of all heights,” she says.
That funding has helped countless numbers of students graduate from college and move on to successful careers. The funding is essential, as 80 percent of the state’s HBCU student population is low-income, and more than half are first-generation students. Helping them get a leg up is all part of a day’s work.
A native Floridian, Jackson’s interest in HBCUs stems from a personal connection. Although she received her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida, Jackson’s parents are graduates of historically Black Hampton University and FAMU. When Jackson joined her law firm, Becker & Poliakoff, in 1999, she says she recognized the need for HBCUs to have an effective advocate both in Tallahassee and in Washington.
“Lavish spending of lobbyists is becoming less important than the personal relationships and contacts across the board with a new and increasingly diverse group of leaders in the Florida Legislature,” says Christi Rice, a spokeswoman for Becker & Poliakoff. In a state with an ever-growing minority population, Jackson gives her firm an inside track.
The issue that necessitated the meeting with the state senator revolved around helping first-generation students attend college. Jackson needed to make sure that HBCUs were included in the funding scheme. And although the Legislature decided to continue funding for first-generation college students, they did not vote for the proposed legislation, which would have included independent HBCUs in the funding.
But one setback doesn’t slow down Jackson. She’ll now likely take on immigration issues, fighting to ensure that all students have access to funding, regardless of their legal status. Students from more than 50 nations attend HBCUs in Florida. “Everyone should get an education,” she says. “No matter what.”
— By Christina Asquith
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