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Melvin Jackson dies at 86; activist founded Leadership Training Institute

Melvin Jackson in an undated family photo.

Melvin Jackson in an undated family photo.  Credit: Jackson Family

Melvin Jackson, a community activist who opened employment doors for minorities across Long Island and once marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, has died. He was 86.

Jackson fought for African-American equality and founded a nonprofit devoted to serving the disadvantaged, family said.

He died Saturday at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore from heart failure, friends said.

Jackson’s introduction to supporting black causes started in 1961 while raising money for Freedom Rides, an effort taken up by student activists as part of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to protest bus segregation in the South.

At the time, Jackson, a longtime Hempstead resident, was in the midst of a thriving electrical engineering career at Sperry Gyroscope, where he helped design cameras that took pictures of the moon, family said.

“My first start of activism at the time didn’t seem to be activism for me. It was really having to do fundraising for the Freedom Rides,” Jackson, who later moved to Oakdale, told Newsday in 2008. “I guess what I consider a civic duty and something that was mandated, some folks might call it activism.”

Said his wife Carol Jackson, 70: “He just quit engineering to become a civil rights activist.”

Jackson, who had said he marched with King in the Deep South during the civil rights movement and protested in the North, was well known for opening employment doors for African-Americans across Long Island, friends said.

He founded the Hempstead Village-based Leadership Training Institute in 1968.

The institute initially worked with groups of promising African-Americans to instill responsibility and community leadership.

In subsequent decades, the mission evolved to meet the growing needs of the disadvantaged minority population in areas such as education, mentoring and social justice advocacy.

His daughter Donna Marie Jackson, who followed in his footsteps and took control of the institute, died of heart failure in 2017 at age 54.

Aster Mehreteab, deputy executive director of the institute, said she worked alongside Melvin Jackson for about 30 years.

“There was a certain wisdom to him. He had a lot of knowledge. From science to social justice, and he treated everyone the same,” she said. “He spent countless hours helping people. He could relate to anyone and was a man of integrity. I was fortunate to work by his side for many years.”

Family members said they will remember Jackson as a man who put others ahead of himself.

“Mel is at peace now, he worked very hard. He was a very interesting, all-around man,” Carol Jackson, of Oakdale, said.

In addition to his wife, Jackson is survived by his son, Michael Jackson, 54, of Brooklyn and daughter Melanie Jackson, 27, of Oakdale.

A Mass will be said at 9:45 a.m. Friday at Saint John Nepomucene Roman Catholic Church in Bohemia. His funeral is at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Faith Baptist Church in Hempstead.

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