Edna Jackson, the first African American woman to serve as mayor of Savannah, Ga., believes the city’s greatest asset is that it’s a great place to live. A native of the town she now governs, Mayor Jackson grew up without indoor plumbing or much money, but with a lot of love. At the age of 9 she joined Savannah’s NAACP and became more involved over the years as she protested segregation. Mayor of Savannah since 2012, Jackson believes in helping others and giving back, and one way she does that is through diabetes advocacy. Mayor Jackson has been living with diabetes for about 25 years. She kindly took time to talk to us about being a mayor, happiness and the people who’ve inspired her along her remarkable path.
What is your state of mind today?
Busy. I’m having fun even though there are bumps in the road. I love what I’m doing.
Which words would you use to describe who you are?
Consensus builder, motivator, a person that loves to meet people.
How does diabetes change – or not change – who you are?
It has changed who I am. Diabetes runs in my family. My mother and grandmother had diabetes. My sister had a kidney transplant. I ask the Lord to give me the strength to lose weight. Now that I’ve lost 70 pounds, it has helped me in managing my blood sugar.
Who inspires you?
People in my life inspire me, and people who have pushed me and have seen things in me that I didn’t see in myself.
What do you appreciate most in your friends?
That they have my back, front and sides, and they’re going to tell me if I’m going in the wrong direction. If I’m working too hard they’ll stop me and take me shopping. They give me unconditional support.
What would you pack for your favorite vacation?
Magazines, clothes. A good book. I don’t pack a lot. I like to see a lot. I went to Aruba for my cousin’s wedding and did a lot of touring and enjoyed the beach.
What’s in your refrigerator right now?
I usually keep a lot of fruit and vegetables in the refrigerator, and meat in the freezer. I keep lunch meat because sometimes I’ll grab a sandwich. Sugar-free jellies and jams. Tea and juice. Half-and-half for my coffee.
What is your favorite way to relieve stress?
What is your idea of happiness?
Being around my son, Kevan, and my family. Acting silly, and being with my friends, and my honey.
What do you most dislike?
Mean-spirited people. Selfish people.
What’s your favorite diabetes management tip?
Try not to eat after 7 in the evening.
People living with diabetes may sometimes blame themselves. What words of encouragement would you give them so they can let go of the blame?
You can’t blame yourself. But once you find out you have diabetes, you have to take care of yourself. There are going to be times when you fall off the wagon and want that piece of cake, but you get back on the regimen.
Everyone gets stuck in a rut now and then. What do you do to re-motivate yourself?
Self-evaluation. I ask why. What caused this? I don’t feel sorry for myself. I tell myself “this too shall pass” and then I shake it off.
What is your greatest fear?
As the mayor, I worry about making a mistake. We’re doing so many wonderful things and I don’t want to make a mistake that people will remember me for, rather than for all the good I’ve done.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Clothes, shoes, handbags.
What does diabetes advocacy mean to you?
We need to educate the public. Here in Savannah I try to participate and greet fundraising walkers, and tell my story at programs. I tell people to get involved and take care of their bodies. I tell them changing just a few habits may help them live longer.
If you could change one thing about Savannah, what would it be?
The crime (and the young people that don’t have jobs).
Who are your heroes in real life?
My grandmother, mother and aunt, who have all passed on. My cousin, Bill Toby, one of the first in my family to become successful. The people who have gotten me where I am today. Many teachers and neighbors: Reverend Matthew S. Brown, Judge Eugene Gadsden, W.W. Law, Roy Wilkins, Ruby Hurley and many, many more.
What are you looking forward to right now?
Rest! Vacation. And I am supposed to be going to Ghana, and I’m looking forward to that.
Jessica Apple is the co-founder and editor in chief of the online diabetes lifestyle magazine A Sweet Life. Her writing has appeared in many publications, including The New York Times Magazine, The Financial Times Magazine, The Southern Review, The Bellevue Literary Review and Tablet Magazine. Apple is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.
© 2015 The DX: The Diabetes Experience