Oct. 7, 2016
By Harry Colbert, Jr., Managing Editor
Linked by DNA, Jamil Jackson has six siblings, but DNA doesn’t tell the full story.
If one were to ask countless young men in North Minneapolis who Jackson is to them, several will reply, “That’s my big brother.” For Jackson, the young men he mentors as a community expert classroom coach through Minneapolis Public School’s (MPS) Office of Black Male Student Achievement, or his C.E.O. (Change Equals Opportunity) program or through his Run and Shoot Elite Basketball League, are more than kids in the neighborhood. They are his family. As Jackson sees it, they are younger versions of him.
“I love these kids. I know what many of them are dealing with. I know where they come from,” said Jackson.
Indeed, Jackson knows firsthand the struggles many of the young men in North Minneapolis are facing and he serves as a living example that a temporary condition does not have to lead to a permanent designation. Jackson’s story is a testament to the endurance of the human spirit.
“I grew up with no parents,” said Jackson. “My parents were drug addicted and from the time I was 14 I lived in the house with my five brothers and one sister and I had to take care of them. So when I see these kids, I was them.”
Jackson said he had to provide for his siblings and at the same time motivate them to stay in school and to do household chores. He said that experience prepared him for his work with area youth.
“I had to create structure for them (his siblings), and that transferred to the young men out here,” said Jackson, who also sits on the boards of Farview Area Community Council and TakeAction Minnesota. “So when I’m talking to these young men I’m not talking down to them, I’m talking and walking with them.”
More than athletics, Jackson’s C.E.O and Run and Shoot programs are about mind and body transformation. In order to play basketball, participants must show weekly grade sheets. “It’s about accountability,” said Jackson. And beyond the games, Jackson organizes cultural enrichment outings such as trips to visit historically Black colleges and universities.
“I don’t care about wins and losses; I care about experiences and exposure,” said Jackson.
So far Jackson seems to be racking up win after win in the eyes of his students and collogues.
“He’s always finding new and innovative ways to get our students engaged. He’s our best teacher,” said Michael Walker, director of MPS’ Office of Black Male Student Achievement. “Kids assess if you’re genuine or not and they know he’s authentic. It comes from being a child who grew up in this community. He wants to see success in all of them (his students).”
For Jackson, he is just doing what he has always done … look out for others.
“This is my passion; this is my destiny,” said Jackson.