Jewell Jackson was born in Washington, D.C. on August 2, 1945 to Harold "Hal" B. Jackson and Julia Hawkins-Jackson. Hal Jackson and his partner Percy E. Sutton started Inner City Broadcasting. ICB began after the U.S. Federal Communications Commission ruled that there be an increase in black radio and television. ICB owned nearly twenty radio stations including WBLS-FM where Hal was a broadcaster. Hal was known as the “Godfather of Black Radio” and opened doors of opportunity for numerous others including being the first to play new artist Alicia Keys’ music.
Julia, Jewell’s mother, was active with The Links, Incorporated, Urban League Guild, and Jack and Jill. Jewell’s earliest influences also came from her aunts. Her aunt Alice Cornish was an elementary school teacher in Washington, DC, the first to integrate the schools in that area, and Essie Goldwire was the first black graduate of the Boston Conservatory of Music.
Throughout her life, Jewell was encouraged to work hard and take nothing for granted. Her father once placed a copy of the New York Times in front of her, saying, "Until you see black people on the front page of this paper, we will not be free." This stuck with her, moving her to continue to set goals that were higher than anyone could have expected.
McCabe was drawn to the performing arts – specifically dance. She studied Russian form classical ballet and modern dance at the High School of Performing Arts in New York City. The school later became the model for the long running dance show Fame. McCabe was inspired by Katherine Dunham and performed routines using both Dunham and Martha Graham techniques.
After attending High School of Performing Arts, McCabe continued her dance studies at Bard College. However, McCabe left college in 1967 to marry Frederick Ward, an alumnus of Bard College who initially worked in advertising and later became a copywriter, advertiser and author.
Later she married US Marine Eugene L. McCabe, who later became president of North General Hospital in New York City. Ever an avid reader, he helped foster McCabe’s desire to continue her work through advocacy. Eugene McCabe was the grandson of Polly McCabe, the founder of New Haven, Connecticut school for girls, and was also a great influence on McCabe’s desire to stand up for women who did not, could not, or would not stand up for themselves. Though both marriages ended in divorce McCabe remains great friends with both men.
When asked why she retains Eugene McCabe’s last name, McCabe states that it is her way of showing respect for those who nurtured her desire to learn and fed her insatiable appetite for knowledge. The first person to educate her and motivate her was her father and the second was Eugene L. McCabe.
McCabe has spent her entire adult life trying to strengthen the network, career, and disciplines of black women, and advance the interests of African Americans and women. Even before she entered the professional arena, McCabe exhibited her commitment to underprivileged youth. Using her dance skills, she participated in an inner-city program that exposed teenaged women to culture and the arts. McCabe worked as a dance instructor in a program for troubled girls encouraging, mentoring, and inspiring them to reach for higher personal goals.
McCabe joined a small new organization founded by twenty four prominent women including two of the highest ranking republicans Evelyn Cunningham the first head of commission on the status of women in America, and Edna Beach the visionary of the group. Also, among the dynamic founders were leading Democrats Ann Roberts (see above), and Mary Burke Nicholas, cabinet director of the division Responsible for Women.
Each of these women, in addition to the other business women who made up the founders, especially her mother Julia, served as mentors to Jewell. As a mentee and member she became a feminist and advocate for women of color. The group, with only two dozen members on its first roster, set its goal to host voter registrations and encourage women to run for elected politics or give women visibility in order attain opportunities for appointed politics.
Their desire was to break away from elitism instead, the goal was to empower women through the political process, therefore the organization served as a contemporary response of black women seeking to better themselves and influence social change.
In 1978 McCabe was elected as president of the Coalition of 100 Black Women, pledging to take the organization national. True to her word, in 1981 she organized the National Coalition of 100 Black Women which quickly expanded to chapters in 22 states. Membership grew exponentially including prominent professionals and community leaders. Some well-known black women who joined were poet Maya Angelou, Spelman College president Johnnetta Cole, Arthenia Joyner, the former president of the National Bar Association, and Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, the first black Congresswoman from California. The National Coalition of 100 Black Women, was quickly recognized as a force to be reckoned with in the areas of education and mentoring services to underprivileged women, serving as a support system for successful black women, by lobbying and offering public relations work on women's issues.
The group opted to use as its symbol the Candace (Can-day-say), the Ethiopian term for queen. Each year the group presented ten Candace Awards to black women who made an impact in the areas of arts, science, technology, and business. McCabe served as the organizations’ national president for ten years. She remains an important figure in the organization as its chairman of the board. She also speaks highly of the organizations and told Ebony that the National Coalition of 100 Black Women is also a forum for the contemporary black woman who seeks professional and political clout. "I think we are different from the women of the '60s," she explained. "We don't feel guilty about being accomplished. In this country, there are older women who come up to you and say, 'You are what we were working so long to create. What you young women are doing is what we always wanted to do.' Obviously there is a dimension of growth, progress ... I think that is the newness. It's an attitude."
In 1993, Jackson-McCabe was one of the first black women to be considered for the executive directorship of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She has been profiled by Ebony magazine on a professional level and for a closer look into her private life.
When Malcolm X’s daughter, Qubilah Shabazz, was charged with conspiring to murder Louis Farrakhan, McCabe was on hand to provide support. She was noted as saying [this event] "has really bonded us… the outpouring of support is unbelievable".
President Bill Clinton appointed McCabe to the Holocaust Museum where she served as member of the congressionally-mandated Committee on Conscience. She was also appointed by Governor Mario Cuomo to the New York State Council on Fiscal and Economic priorities. Under Governor Cuomo, McCabe also served as chair to the NY State Jobs Training Partnership Council with an annual budget of over $250 million for training.
McCabe has been quoted as saying "We hear that behind every great man is a woman. It has been my experience that behind every great effort and achievement in society goes a black woman or a group of black women being unrecognized.”
In 1977, McCabe became an associate of the Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press (WIFP). WIFP is an American nonprofit publishing organization. The organization works to increase communication between women and connect the public with forms of women-based media.
McCabe became an honorary member of the first black female sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha founded in 1908.
The Stone Mountain Lithonia Chapter, near Atlanta, Georgia expanded the chapter’s mentorship program to become The Jewell Jackson McCabe Emerging Leaders Institute, Inc. (ELI). ELI is a not-for-profit organization committed to developing a diverse organization that fosters creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit by enriching the lives of women through leadership opportunities, personal and professional learning, and cultural experiences.
John Robinson of the Boston Globe wrote "McCabe has become… a major player on Gotham's exclusive, highly competitive scene that her photograph has begun appearing on the social pages of the New York Times."