American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson announced Friday that he has the degenerative neurological disease Parkinson’s.
The 76-year-old Baptist minister, who once worked with Martin Luther King Jr for the cause of equal rights for African Americans, and currently heads a Chicago non-profit organization, said it has become “increasingly difficult to perform routine tasks.”
“My family and I began to notice changes about three years ago. For a while, I resisted interrupting my work to visit a doctor,” Jackson said in a statement.
“After a battery of tests, my physicians identified the issue as Parkinson’s disease, a disease that bested my father.”
The diagnosis was made in 2015, and Jackson said he was concentrating on “lifestyle changes,” physical therapy to slow disease progression, and on writing his memoir.
He also said he would use his diagnosis as an opportunity to educate others about the neurological illness, with a largely unknown cause and no cure, that afflicts seven to 10 million people worldwide.
A number of other notable figures have been known to suffer from the disease, including boxing legend Muhammad Ali, actor Michael J. Fox and Pope John Paul II.
“We are all thinking of Reverend Jesse Jackson and his family today,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a fellow Democrat who was former President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff.
“While Parkinson’s disease may be a physical condition, it will never, ever break Reverend Jackson’s spiritual commitment to justice and his ability to help continue to be a voice to those whose voices are not heard,” the mayor said in a statement.
Jackson has been a leader in the American Civil Rights movement since the 1960s, when he marched with Martin Luther King Jr, and helped fundraise for the cause.
He was the most prominent African American to run for the US presidency — with two unsuccessful attempts to capture the Democratic Party nomination in the 1980s — until Obama’s ascendance.
An unequivocal liberal, Jackson founded an organization in the 1980s that advocated for equal rights for African Americans, gays, and women.