WYE MILLS - Victoria Jackson-Stanley, both the first African-American and first woman mayor of Cambridge, has always loved the city that she led for eight years and has learned from its turmoil.
She will deliver the Chesapeake College Commencement 2016 address on May 25, and was recently appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan to the college’s Board of Trustees.
As an African-American child growing up on the segregated Eastern Shore, Ms. Jackson-Stanley could not have imagined that she would someday be twice elected mayor of Cambridge.
Ms. Jackson-Stanley said she watched from her bedroom window as Cambridge burned during the famed riots of the 1960s. Still, the four Jackson children were protected from the racial tensions of the period by parents who were determined to create a safe haven.
“The city was divided by segregation, but I was cloistered in a way. Cambridge to me was home and my neighborhood was a safe place where I felt comfortable growing up. My whole world was within walking distance of my house,” Jackson-Stanley said.
When it came time for their children to enter high school, Fred and Betty Jackson decided that they could no longer keep their children from the Civil Rights movement or the changing times.
“My father worked for the schools – he was a truant officer – and my parents felt this was the time for us to do something for the cause. That meant I would go to what I had always thought of as the “white” high school. We simply had to do it. It was a huge change, but the same expectations were there for us,” Ms. Jackson-Stanley said. “We were expected to do our best in school, behave, and go on to college. Period. No excuses.”
So, the shy 14-year-old took her place in history and entered the newly-integrated Cambridge Senior High School with the freshman class. The transition proved difficult as Jackson-Stanley felt isolated and out-of-place in her new surroundings.
All that changed, though, when Jackson-Stanley made her first friend at the new school. A white student named Laurie Henry became Jackson-Stanley’s high school best friend.
“We did everything together and we’re still close,” Jackson-Stanley, a 1971 graduate, said. “I learned then that one friendship can make all the difference. And I also saw how things can change when people connect on any level, whether it’s through interests, ideals or goals.”
Feeling more connected and comfortable, Jackson-Stanley joined student clubs, played on the field hockey team, and tried out for school plays.
As difficult as the adjustment was, Ms. Jackson-Stanley said her parents’ insistence that she be at the forefront of school integration made her the person she is today.
She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work from Salisbury University and a master’s degree from Howard University. A Licensed Certified Social Worker, Ms. Jackson-Stanley recently retired from her career with the State of Maryland. In 2015, she received the William Donald Schaefer Award from the Comptroller of Maryland.
The lessons learned during those difficult early months of high school, have helped her build success in adulthood.
“I’m used to being the only black person in the room or the only woman at the table, and that has made me a stronger person with more empathy,” she said. “I’m okay outside of my comfort zone, and I think that helps me listen to other points of view and see things from another person’s perspective. I’ve learned that you don’t have to have shared experience with someone to see things from where they sit.”
That philosophy, the former mayor said, helped her reach out to all citizens of the city. Ms. Jackson-Stanley was elected to two mayoral terms.
“There is a beautiful spirit in Cambridge that has allowed it to survive and its citizens to thrive no matter what is happening. The city is a work in progress; just like me. There are things about it that are wonderful and things that need some work,” the former mayor said. “But we’ll keep working on it together; as a community.”
Ms. Jackson-Stanley and her husband Jerome Stanley still live in Cambridge. The have a daughter and a grandson. She said she now looks forward to serving the community through a position on the Chesapeake College Board of Trustees.
“Chesapeake is different things to different people, so the college is responsive to what the community needs. Students right out of high school and adults who want to change careers can find a program at the college,” said Ms. Jackson-Stanley. “Because it pulls from points across the Shore, Chesapeake offers a diversity that you don’t see in many other places. Students can pursue an education and get that diverse social experience close to home. I’ve learned that social interaction is an important component of education.”