Jerry Kennedy bleeds blue for Jackson State University, and he does not hesitate in making it known.
“JSU gave so much to me. All my children went to Jackson State on academic scholarships. I went on a track scholarship,” shares the Jasper County native. “My brothers and other family attended Jackson State. So, as a Kennedy, I feel like we are obligated to give back.”
And give back he did. Kennedy pledged $150,000 to his alma mater over eight years ago, and today he has fulfilled a little over $100,000 of his promise.
Growing up in Rose Hill, Mississippi, Kennedy attended Heidelberg High School. After graduating, he landed a track scholarship at ‘Thee I Love’ in the capital city. The school was just a little over an hour ride up I-20 from his Rose Hill community home.
At JSU, he helped lead the team to national track championships from 1976 to 1979. Kennedy attained his undergraduate degrees in finance and accounting and later a graduate degree in accounting from Jackson State. He is also a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Eta Tau, a grad chapter.
He joined the Mississippi Tax Commission, now the Department of Revenue, in 1981, making him one of the first Black auditors to work for the organization. For five consecutive years, he was recognized as a “top auditor,” which, according to Kennedy, was a state record.
As an auditor, Kennedy traveled throughout the country. During the course of his work, he encountered some high-profile people like Ross Perot, business magnate and founder of Electronic Data Systems. Perot later ran for president of the United States in 1992 and 1996. Kennedy also met Dick Cheney, former chairman and CEO of Halliburton Company. After leaving Halliburton, Chaney became the 46th vice president of the United States under George W. Bush. After 17 years as an auditor, Kennedy transitioned to hospital administrator for Jefferson County, where he eliminated $1 million in debt within eight months, receiving recognition from the Mississippi Hospital Association. He also led the construction of a new 20-bed acute care facility without incurring new debt. He also serviced Claiborne County Hospital, increasing their revenue by 50 percent in nine months.
If that was not enough, for over 35 years, Kennedy owned and operated a private consulting firm offering accounting, bookkeeping and tax services to small businesses within Mississippi.
Once he retired as an administrator, Kennedy says he had no intentions of sitting at home checking chores off the “honey-do” list. So, in 2017, he opened Kennedy Behavioral Health Center, an outpatient facility in Jackson.
“We provide healthcare resources like social work, psychiatric care, nursing and therapy for mentally disabled patients,” Kennedy explains. “We see approximately 40 patients a day.”
Plans to open a second Jackson location stalled slightly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are already 100 patients on the waitlist for the new center situated on Valley Street.
A lifetime member of the JSU National Alumni Association, Kennedy emphasizes the importance of joining the association and reinvesting in his alma mater.
“You can’t have a voice if you don’t give. I tell that to all Jacksonians. If you’re going to be true blue, you can’t just send your child to the football games. It’s important to send your child to Jackson State – for athletics or academics,” he stresses.
And Kennedy appears to walk it as he talks it.
All four of his children are JSU alums. His son James Henry is a software consultant and owner of BlueVision, LLC. He has three daughters, Tamala Matthews, a customer support and training director at the Mississippi Department of Education, Jessica Kennedy Vickers, manager of digital delivery at Royal Caribbean Group, and the youngest, Tiffany Smith, works as a certified family nurse practitioner at the JSU Health Center.
“You could only go into math or science in our house. My children had scholarships to other schools, but I sent them to Jackson State, and they’re all doing well,” he boasts. Though Kennedy is true blue, his wife, Joyce Kennedy, is a graduate of Alcorn University. When asked if there is a rivalry in his house, he says without hesitation, “No, it’s Jackson State all the way.”7 comments