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Rev. Jesse Jackson announces Parkinson’s diagnosis

Rev. Jesse Jackson | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The Rev. Jesse Jackson announced Friday that he has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

In a statement, Jackson said: “After a battery of tests, my physicians identified the issue as Parkinson’s disease, a disease that bested my father.”

Parkinson’s is a “progressive disorder” that impacts the nervous system and affects movement. Tremors are a common sign of the disease, which can also cause stiffness or slow movement, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“Throughout my career of service, God has kept me in the embrace of his loving arms, and protected me and my family from dangers, seen and unseen,” Jackson said. “Now in the latter years of my life, at 76 years old, I find it increasingly difficult to perform routine tasks, and getting around is more of a challenge.”

Jackson said that he and his family first noticed the signs of the disease about three years ago but “resisted interrupting my work” and did not seek medical treatment until “I could no longer ignore the symptoms.”

In a statement, Northwestern Memorial Hospital said Jackson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2015. He has been treated in an “outpatient setting” since the diagnosis.

“Recognition of the effects of this disease on me has been painful, and I have been slow to grasp the gravity of it,” Jackson said. “For me, a Parkinson’s diagnosis is not a stop sign but rather a signal that I must make lifestyle changes and dedicate myself to physical therapy in hopes of slowing the disease’s progression.”

Asked how the diagnosis would impact Jackson’s role at the Kenwood-based Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, which he founded in 1971, a Jackson spokesman declined to comment.

In a statement issued Friday afternoon, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said: “We are all thinking of Reverend Jesse Jackson and his family today. 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.”

Jackson’s fellow civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton addressed Jackson’s diagnosis in a video posted to his Instagram account Friday.

Sharpton said he spent time with Jackson in recent days before the announcement and spoke glowingly about Jackson’s legacy.

“I thought about the greatness of this man, how he continued Martin Luther King’s movement for justice, how he cemented it in the North and made the King Movement truly national,” Sharpton said. “He served in ways he never got credit [for]. No one in our lifetime served longer and stronger. We pray for him, ‘cause he’s given his life for us.”