Jesse White emphasizes volunteer work at Naperville Chamber event

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White came to Naperville Monday to challenge people to volunteer in their communities.

Speaking at a Naperville Chamber of Commerce event at the Marriott Chicago/Naperville to a crowd of 125 people, White pointed to the organ donor program promoted by his office’s driver’s license division as a way to give back to the community.

“You may not have a need today, you might not have a need tomorrow,” he said, but he assured the room that at some point, someone close to them would likely need an organ donation.

White was first elected to his office in 1998 and is the longest serving Secretary of State in Illinois history. He also served 16 years in the Illinois General Assembly and six years as Cook County Recorder of Deeds.

White’s service in elected office came after teaching school for 33 years.

White may be best known for the Jesse White Tumbling Team, created in 1959 as a way to provide at-risk children an alternative to life on the streets.

The group consists of 325 members who must stay away from gangs, drugs and maintain a C average in school to participate.

The group has performed all over the United States and around the world, and White pointed to it as an example of successful people giving back to the community.

Of the 14,000 youngsters who have gone through the program, only 117 have ever gotten into trouble with the police, he said.

The Jesse White Tumblers are in the process of building a new facility on the near northwest side of Chicago to promote education for its members.

“It will be the safety net for the young people,” he said.

White praised the Naperville community’s diversity and its public school system, which he called “beyond reproach.”

White attended college in Alabama during the time of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous Montgomery bus boycott, sparked by Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat to a white man.

He drew a laugh when he reminisced about King telling him about studying Ghandi’s philosophy of non-violence and turning the other cheek to aggressors.

“I told him, ‘Dr. King, I’m from Chicago and we don’t operate like that,’” White said.

But he turned serious when he described what it was like for an African-American youngster in the late 1950s to go from what he termed was a “cosmopolitan” high school on Chicago’s north side to the still-segregated Alabama.

He pointed to this year’s election in November which will include a referendum question on raising the minimum wage as a prime example of the importance of voting.

Walter Johnson, president and CEO of the Turning Pointe Autism Foundation, asked White what had been his most difficult challenge in public life.

“The most difficult thing was just getting elected,” White said.

Naperville Chamber President Nikki Anderson was pleased with the day.

“I’ve been trying to pick up the quality of our speakers,” she said. “People take an hour and one half out of their day to attend and I want them to have quality.”

DuPagee County Board James Healy of Naperville said White’s talks are “always informative and entertaining” and that “he proved that again today.”

Naperville City Councilman Steve Chirico said White was “outstanding … simply outstanding … what a compassionate person he is.”

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