Nikki Jackson loves the fact that her professional responsibilities as senior vice president and regional executive of the Louisville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis include advocating for low- and middle-income residents.
“It happens to be that my passion is beautifully reconciling with my profession and my ability to be visible in the community,” she says. “I am absolutely expected by my boss to be parts of boards and to have a point of view I can express both as Nikki and as the Fed in communities. My employer is interested in community with a capital C.”
And while her job’s responsibilities stretch her geographically throughout Kentucky and parts of Indiana, Jackson is especially focused on her work in West Louisville, where she is a member of One West, a community development organization. She is on the organization’s Executive Committee and chairs the Marketing and Communications Committee.
“I love the work. I feel like I’m at home there, being responsible and responsive and paying back to my community and people who look like me,” she says from her 27th-floor office in Downtown Louisville. “I’m no different than folks who grew up here. I’ve had a middle-class upbringing, but I’m not different. We started in the same place.”
Jackson grew up in Virginia on a college campus where her parents were professors. Both were active in the civil rights movement, providing Jackson with an understanding of issues faced by African-Americans in history.
“We still have a long way to go in terms of economic prosperity,” she says. “We can’t fix 500 years of systemic disinvestment overnight.”
Jackson credits much of her career success to an early association with West End businessman Charlie Johnson. She met Johnson at church, she says, and he offered her a job. That led to introductions to prominent local leaders and politicians, culminating in her appointment by Gov. Steve Beshear as secretary of his Personnel Cabinet.
Jackson landed her current post despite having no experience in banking. After Beshear’s term ended, she spent time talking to her East End neighbors, all of whom were white, about the West End.
“I was becoming angry because the conversations we would have about Louisville, east and west, seemed very judgmental, incredibly judgmental,” she says.
So she began hosting gatherings at her home, focused on the theme of “East meets West,” as she tried to dispel negative stereotypes of West Louisville. A recruiter for the Federal Reserve Bank attended one of those events and convinced her to apply for the open position. She was hired in 2014.
Jackson is optimistic about new developments in West Louisville, and says OneWest is gaining momentum as new development is taking place. While she says there is still much work to do, she believes positive change is coming.
“There’s palpable energy in the city to coalesce around the dynamics of assisting West Louisville in really meaningful, not just perfunctory, write-a-check ways,” she says. “There’s a different kind of air that I’m feeling in the city of late that I think we can capitalize on.”