Jessie Stith-Wilson joined the New York City Labor Chorus as a first alto approximately 13 years ago, shortly after the chorus returned from Sweden. “How time flies when you’re having fun,” she said. “I love to sing and I was looking for an experience where I could sing, have a good time, and also address some social issues.”
Jessie was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She is the oldest of her three living siblings. Jessie followed a family tradition and graduated from Spelman College. While at Spelman she was a member of the Spelman Choir and the AMS (Atlanta-Morehead-Spelman) Players. However, the highlight of her college years was being an activist in the civil rights movement. As a member of SNCC she marched, sat in, and protested to help lift the veil of segregation. “The joy of witnessing barriers being lifted is a feeling I will never forget.”
Jessie comes from family with a strong history of activism. Her grandfather, a Pullman porter, and her father, a federal employee with the General Services Administration, were early activists in the labor movement. This is a tradition that continues to be followed by many members of her family.
Jessie recently retired after working more than 25 years with the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). Jessie states, “I loved my job when I worked for the Division of Foster Care Services, because our primary focus was ensuring the safety and well-being of children.” Jessie states that she was passionate about working with young people, helping them develop skills that were needed to appropriately transition from the system. She went back to school in order to be more effective in this arena. In 2001 she received her Master’s Degree from the Wurtzweiler School of Social Work of Yeshiva University. Jessie reports that she is not happy about the current direction that the ACS has taken.
Jessie has sung under all three of the chorus directors and has not found the transitions to be difficult. However, she reports she really likes where the Chorus is going under Jana, how it has grown, how good it sounds, and how hard the members are working. “I come home from rehearsal and now study the songs.” She wants to add to the Chorus’s repertoire and is busy looking for music arrangements.
Jessie moved to New York in 1968 and fell in love with the culture, the diversity of the people, and all the different foods. She still loves those things about the city, but finds some quality-of-life issues a challenge to an enjoyable retirement: getting up early in the morning to move the car for alternate side is an issue she does not want to address. Even though her sons and their families reside here in the city, Jessie is planning to move to Atlanta in a year or two, where she intends to start an Atlanta Labor Chorus. We will miss her, but we can visit.