BRONZEVILLE — Audrey Jackson and her daughter, Jojo, always wondered about their family history.
The elder Jackson grew up knowing up her mother’s side of the family, but her father’s side was a mystery. But a Springfield genealogist had the answers.
The Jacksons discovered Audrey Jackson’s father was Irish — and they had living relatives.
Their story is focus of a short film, “Bl*Irish,” which follows the mother and daughter as they recount how they found their Emerald Isle roots. The film is directed by Jason Polevoi, a documentarian who spent a year chronicling the life of My Block, My Hood, My City founder Jahmal Cole. Jackson is the organization’s apparel specialist.
The Jacksons learned about their Irish family 15 years ago after Audrey hired a genealogist in Springfield. The expert found her estranged father, Joseph Quinn.
Though Audrey Jackson’s father had died, he had a grandson who was living, the Jacksons said. It wasn’t until the three spoke that they saw their first image of Jackson’s father: a black-and-white photograph of a man with slick, thinning gray hair and a smile like theirs.
Jojo Jackson was speechless when she saw the resemblance between her mother, grandfather and one brother, she said. Her brother and grandfather even share the same first name, Jojo Jackson said.
Learning about the family history “was something else. Like, literally life-giving,” said Jojo Jackson, who is the youngest of her five siblings. “And you could see the joy in my mom. It was a real humbling moment for her.”
The Jacksons’ discovery of their Irish family ties came with a new tradition: They began joining the throng of celebrants gathering along the dyed green waters of the Chicago River every March for St. Patrick’s Day.
“We basically honor my mom on St. Patrick’s Day. The four of the five of us make an effort to hang out, get food together and just be out. It’s a whole thing,” Jojo Jackson said.
The film’s title is a nod to one holiday-related encounter where an older gentleman from Dublin struck up a conversation with the siblings, telling them of his direct connection to the island. When they told him they, too, were Irish, the man exclaimed, “You’re actually Blirish!”
“We adopted that term from there,” Audrey Jackson said.
Then, this January, Audrey Jackson was brainstorming ideas for a new My Block, My Hood, My City hoodie and wondered why there had never been a St. Patrick’s Day edition. She approached Cole with the idea and mentioned her family history. The group’s “Bl*Irish” apparel quickly went from concept to reality.
At the same time, Polevoi connected with the Jacksons and learned their story through their shared work with My Block, My Hood, My City.
With Polevoi already having a working relationship with Green and Jackson, filming the short was easy, he said. It also fell within the organization’s ethos of breaking down barriers that separate people.
“I think part of what [Cole] has really instilled in me is that it’s about bringing all of these different cultures and people in Chicago together, so when he told me about Jojo and Miss. Audrey, it was perfect,” Polevoi said. “These are two communities in Chicago that historically have not spent a lot of time together, so for the Jacksons to be a bridge between these two communities was such an amazing story.”
Audrey Jackson was initially camera-shy but became comfortable as filming went on, she said. The finished product is available to watch on Vimeo.
Audrey Jackson also found the perfect design for the holiday hoodies, which come in green or black: “My Block, My Hood, My City” emblazoned in Irish Gaelic or English in a Celtic-inspired font with four clovers beneath the message. The $50 sweatshirts are available to buy online through March 17, with all proceeds going to the nonprofit. The organization has sold 85 so far.
“I just shipped two hoodies to Ireland a few days ago. It’s crazy,” Audrey Jackson said.
How will the Jackson clan celebrate this weekend?
“Probably a family dinner with corned beef and cabbage,” Audrey Jackson said.
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