Jackson, Fred James 1950–
Fred James Jackson 1950–
Educator, poet, publisher
Fred James Jackson admits that he has taken “a lot of knocks” in life. Rather than allowing them to beat him down, he has formidably risen above adversity. Confident, articulate, and self-assured, he is clear about who he is and what he hopes to accomplish during his lifetime.
Born in High Point, North Carolina on June 11, 1950, Fred James Jackson was raised by a single mother. Perpetually battling with alcoholism, his mother shuffled herself and young son between many men and numerous homes. Jackson also witnessed his mother being abused by many of these men as well. A victim of her lifestyle, Jackson’s mother died at the age of 36 when Jackson was only 11 years old. After stints in several foster homes and time spent with an abusive grandfather, Jackson found himself homeless by the age of 14.
With seemingly no escape from this bleak existence, Jackson happened to walk into the local YMCA one afternoon. As he recounted in an interview with Contemporary Black Biography, he found himself talking with Mr. Webb, a retired insurance executive who worked in the basket room. He explained his situation to Mr. Webb, including the fact that he did not even have 25 cents to his name. Mr. Webb immediately marched upstairs to the executive director’s office, and when he returned Jackson found himself with room, board, and a job as assistant in the basket room.
While at the YMCA, Jackson’s counselor, Mr. Thomas, befriended him and encouraged him to return to school. At Thomas’ insistence and with his financial assistance, Jackson entered the newly-formed Job Corps in 1966. Not only did the Job Corps symbolize, as he told CBB, “the first comfort zone” he had ever had, but it was also the first time that he heard himself referred to as “Jackson.” He had previously thought his last name was Walker, his mother’s maiden name. While in the Job Corps, Jackson learned his first trade, business and retailing, was introduced to tennis, and ran track. His track team, in fact, was so successful that they would have broken the NCAA record had they competed at the collegiate level. At the age of 17, Jackson joined the Army, earned the rank of drill sergeant, and was sent to Vietnam. As he told Bob Sylva of the Sacramento Bee, “The first home I ever had was in the Army.” While serving in the Army, Jackson received four honorable discharges, numerous decorations, and a college degree.
Jackson remained in the Army until 1987. Towards the end of his military career, he began to focus more intensively on his creative talents, and in particular on singing and song-writing. While his life story may have been dark and difficult, Jackson worked hard to ensure that his life was not reflected in his art. Instead, he wrote about love. Recording under the name of Freddie James (there was already a performer by the name of Freddie Jackson), Jackson predicted in The Observer in 1986 that he “intended to challenge anybody up there who they [the music industry] say is Number 1.”
At a Glance…
Born Fred James Jackson on June 11, 1950 in High Point, NC; mother Mary Jane Walker; divorced; children: Marrian Ann, Fred James Jr., Patrice M. Education: BA, Religious Education, Shreveport, 1977; attended, University of Maryland; certificate, Armed Forces Institute; attending, University of San Diego; Military service: United States Army, 1967–87.
Career: Veterans Affairs Officer, Boulder College, 1978–79; employment specialist PSE-3; procurement manager, McClellan Air Force Base Logistic Center, United States AirForce, 1975–87; executive director, The Community Drug Intervention Network Inc., 1987–92; procurement officer, United States Department of Agriculture, 1992–94; English teacher, department chair, Grant Joint Union School District, 1994–96; President, CEO, Black Rose Enterprise Publishing, 1986-; teacher, computer education business, Sacramento Unified School District\Hiram Johnson High School, 1995-; director, Hole in One Junior Gulf Club; recording artist under the name Freddie James.
Selected memberships: National Education Association, 1994-; California Teachers Association, 1994-; National Association of Black School Educators, 1995-; peer counseling leadership coordinator, tobacco drug and alcohol program coordinator, State of California, 1996-.
Selected awards: Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, 1969; two presidential citations, four honorable discharges; Senate Certificate of Recognition, State of California Assembly, 1996.
Addresses: Office —Black Rose Enterprise Publishing, PO Box 5283, Sacramento, CA 95817.
As he further explained, “I have that charisma in my voice, that draw, that sweetness, that romance that makes the ladies’ toes tingle/’ Jackson’s debut single was released in 1987. In addition to recording albums, he also composed the music for an anti-drug video entitled The Drug Busters.
As a single father of three children, including one suffering from cerebral palsy, parenting responsibilities eventually compelled Jackson to terminate his music career. He then turned to poetry writing, a natural extension of songwriting, as an outlet for his creative energies. In 1987 he founded Black Rose Enterprise, a publishing house dedicated to releasing his work. Since that time he has not only written and published numerous educational books, board games, and tapes for children, including Soul Pha Bet A-Z, Catfish and Jabo, and Brain Fitness, but he has also received three Pulitzer Prize nominations for his collections of poetry.
Self-described as the “Prince of Poetry,” Jackson’s work reveals a realistic and often harsh portrayal of the African American struggle for survival. For example, his volume entitled They Call Me Names, published in 1994, “has to do with a people,” he told The Observer, “not so much what they call me, but who we are as a people.” Another work, Lighting - Master of the Blues, has been described in The Observer as “an emotional travel through the life of a once renowned blues musician whose illiteracy caused him to fall from fame into obscurity.” This book, Jackson told Stacy Bush of The Observer, was inspired by the neighborhood of his youth. “There were so many African Americans who had achieved great heights who were uneducated in terms of having the ability to read or write, but still obtained excellence in their particular area.” In 1996, Jackson’s work reached a mainstream audience when the J.C. Penney store in Florin, California displayed an exhibit of his works. Entitled “Poetry of a Man,” the exhibit included both his poetry and his illustrations. As assistant store manager Eli Cain, Jr. explained to The Observer, “Mr. Jackson is a master craftsman …[He] has uniquely combined verse and art in a way that each supports itself. It’s different, beautiful and very marketable.”
While Jackson’s journeys have taken him from the Army to the recording studio and printing press, his real calling, he believes, is to help the youth of his community. Possessing boundless energy, ideas, and ambitions, Jackson has channeled these powers into a variety of avenues aimed at instilling success in these children. As he recounted to The Observer, “Kids need to see success to be a success, they need to see it in their teachers, neighbors and in the community.” Jackson himself wants to provide such a model as a way, he told The Observer, “of giving back to the people who helped me become a survivor.” Towards this end, Jackson created the Community Drug Intervention Network in 1987. As he recounted to CBB, he wanted to “stop gang banging and focus on education.” Through this network, Jackson offered self-esteem and motivational seminars for youths. Events such as the “Youth Slamma Jamma” basketball dunk and three-point shoot contest, featuring former Harlem Globetrotter Curly Neal, and a “Tribute to Jazz,” which spotlighted talented young musicians, exemplified Jackson’s diverse programming blending athletics and academics.
In 1994, after an 18-month stint as a procurement officer with the United States Department of Agriculture, Jackson took his efforts directly into the classroom and became a teacher. That he became a teacher is not surprising, for, as he told Sylva, “nobody cared about me. Then somebody did care. My teachers.” Forever a drill sergeant, Jackson commands respect in the classroom. In addition to teaching business technology, computer applications, and physical education at Hiram W. Johnson High School in Sacramento, California, he has worked with at-risk children and those in in-house suspension programs.
Building upon the work he began with the Community Drug Intervention Network, Jackson founded the Hole-in-One Junior Golf Club in March of 1998. It is here that the force of Jackson’s energies can be felt most directly. Jackson was exposed to golf as a child, earning extra money shining shoes and eventually caddying for golfers. He further refined his golf skills while in the Army. As its name suggests, the club strives to expose students to the game of golf. Club members view golf instructional videos, learn golf etiquette, and take practice swings at the Family Center driving range. Recruited while in elementary school, qualified students remain in the program through high school. In the spring of 2000, for instance, the club leadership selected 18 girls and 21 boys from the third grade, and there were 22 members enrolled at the high school level.
Despite its name, the Hole-in-One Club is targeted primarily at improving and maintaining strong academic standards and discipline for its participants. As stated in its promotional materials, the club’s philosophy emphasizes that “success does not come by accident but by Preparation, Dedication, and Hard Work.” Provided with peer tutoring, access to computerized remedial programs, and academic and social mentors and role models, members must maintain a 3.0 grade point average. The organization further promotes nonviolence and an anti-drug and alcohol policy. In an interview with Ariel Ruiz of The Connection, Jackson fully defined the mission of his club: “Ignorance is the enemy. And we are on a mission to reach out to kids and help them become successful in life …[F]rom golf, children learn the sport and the discipline to become better individuals.” Ultimately, as Carla Rios commented, Jackson “not only visualizes the potential in young students but puts all of his effort in helping the students visualize it for themselves.”
Clearly, it is not the game of golf per se that drives Jackson. In his interview with CBB, Jackson is poignantly clear as to the motivation behind his involvement in programs such as the Hole-in-One Club: “I am led to do it, I am happy to do it. I come from it so I understand it, and I understand the kids. I was homeless, so I understand what it is like to be homeless. I was motherless so I understand what it is like to be motherless. I was fatherless so I understand what it is like to be fatherless. I slept on sidewalks so I understand it. I slept on porches where roaches and mice were crawling all around me, I understand it. I’ve had leeches, I’ve had boils, I’ve had tatter, I understand it. I’ve been in a foster home, I know all about that. I understand these kids …They say that the kid can’t learn; well did you try to teach him? …My calling is to do what I do.”
Jackson claims that it was anger that pulled him through the most debilitating times of his childhood. Anger, he told CBB, is a negative. Thus, “you’ve got to find something positive: being an achiever. Make those people who made you angry stand up and look at you in a positive way. Make that your footstool. I am always getting even with my grandfather, with my mom, with my stepdad …. I turned anger into a positive, into success …I’ve taken nothing and made something out of it.” Such conversations lead Jackson to examine the meaning of success itself. As he remarked to CBB, “You have to come from a place to go to a place. Once you get there, that’s success. Whatever destination you reach, wherever you stop, that’s success. Because you didn’t have it at the beginning. I’ve never forgotten where I came from.”
Confident of where he is today, Jackson remains unsure of what the future may hold. As he knows so well from his singing and writing experiences, “It’s about opportunities,” he reminded CBB. “Somebody has to give you a break …If you get the right breaks, you are set for life.” While some have suggested candidacies for state assembly or state senator, Jackson told CBB that he “won’t know until it’s time.” He does dream about performing on stage with poet Maya Angelou, the person he reveres more than anyone else - and the national recognition such a spotlight would imply. Until then, Jackson told CBB, he will continue to “keep pushing these kids, keep doing what I am doing with the Hole-in-One, keep writing my books, and working on my cars, and taking care of my kids …It’s all about the kids. It’s not about me …I’m not looking for anything. Whatever comes, I’ll share with those less fortunate than myself …. No big ‘I’s, not little’you’s. I’m just a man …The only thing in a name is what you want it to be. Fred James Jackson is just a name. It’s my works that count.”
Passion in Black, Black Rose Enterprise, 1992.
They Call Me Names, Black Rose Enterprise, 1994.
Lightning, Master of the Blues, Black Rose Enterprise, 1994.
One Race, Many Cultures 2, Black Rose Enterprise, 1996.
Observen December 9–15, 1983, p. E-2; May 29-June 5, 1986, p. E-2; March 3–9, 1988, p. E-4; November 22–28, 1990, p. A-5; January 13- 19, 1994, p. B-l; October 6–12, 1994; May 11–17, 1995, p. E-2; April 24–30, 1997, p. A-5.
Sacramento Bee, November 4, 1999.
Sacramento Connection, Volume 1, No. 12, 1999.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from an interview with Contemporary Black Biography, March 2000; and from promotional materials from the Hole-in-One Junior Golf Club.
—Lisa S. Weitzman
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