How hard it was going to be to manage my schedule! I had no idea that having an organization could be so demanding on my time. Luckily my family chips in to keep me be on point but it is LOTS of hard work.
As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jahkil Jackson.
Jahkil Jackson is a 13-year-old kid, motivational speaker, founder of Project I Am blessing bags for the homeless, and author of “I Am,” a kid’s book aimed to encourage children to stay positive and never double themselves or their abilities. Most notably, Jahkil was acknowledged as one of three influential people of 2017 by President Barack Obama and the Obama Foundation.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your personal background, and how you grew up?
I’m 13 years old from Chicago. I’m a normal kid, I like to watch TV, play video games, hang out with friends, make tik tok videos and my favorite is playing basketball ball. I also tap dance and breakdance. I am an only child but I do have a dog named JJ, he is a beagle and he will be 14 years old in December, he is older than me!
Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?
When I was 5, I went to feed the homeless with my aunt on a winter night in Chicago. At this time, I had no idea that some people live outside. I was so shocked and confused. I asked my aunt a bunch of questions and then went home to ask my parents to buy them all homes. We couldn’t do that, so over the next few years I just kept wanting to help. So when I was 8, they helped me come up with an idea that was easier to handle. I decided that I didn’t want to give out food because so many people do that. I also decided that I wanted to do something year-round because most people give only during the holiday season. My contribution needed to be something that would last a bit longer than a meal.
Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?
There are so many different reasons that cause homelessness including loss of employment, loss of family, lack of resources, mental illness and discrimination. I think we got to this point in homelessness because of forgetting. I think that lots of people over the years have forgotten that there are homeless out there. We have forgotten that homeless people are people too.
For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?
This progression builds because of a variety of reasons. Poverty, financial issues, and just the circumstances that lots of people are dealing with. Many families live check to check. They are one major incident away from being out on the streets. A young person with a strong family support system, access to school and parents with jobs can have their lives changed in a month, a week, a day! Unfortunately, if the adult loses ability to pay bills, an eviction will follow, they could move around from couch to couch and eventually live up sleeping outside.
A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?
I would say that not everyone has the money to afford a cheaper option. Not everyone can just move to a different city, think about it, it costs money to move, so if you don’t have money to eat, how are you supposed to have money to move?!
If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?
Everyone does not have money to give a homeless person, so for me, I say the best way to handle this is by showing them attention, showing that you know that they are out here.
What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?
If you are asked this question, i would say to not be rude about it, that is ignoring them or saying harsh words. If you don’t have anything to give, at least tell them that in a kind way that won’t make them feel bad. Offering kind words can go a long way.
Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?
Number one, I hope that my work is building awareness to this crisis, which I hope will make leaders pay more attention to the need to help settle this issue. I hope that my work is offering a bit of hope and support to those in need.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?
COVID has affected the homeless community because many people are not aware that they have been infected which creates a great spread unknowingly. It has affected my ability to move around the way I used to. I did come up with an idea to engage youth from across the country in a virtual packing party, most recently 150 kids from 65 cities came together over zoom to pack 5,000 blessing bags within 1 hour! So even though I cant host my usual events, this has allowed me to branch out way beyond my dreams!
Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?
Something that makes me most proud is the amount of people that I’ve impacted. By the end of this year, my work will have impacted 50,000 people across the world. Additionally, I have been blessed to be a leader in being a youth change agent, inspiring so many other kids to make change in their communities.
Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?
No particular story because there are so many, but my parents and my GG. They have been a huge help throughout the 4 years of the organization.
Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this crisis? Can you give some examples?
Spread the word about this issue. Go out and see what you can do to help, nothing is too small. Make some time to volunteer.
If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?
Everyone should have access to a free college education, a law for access to housing, and a stronger law against all forms of discrimination.
I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?
What keeps me going is the smiles on people’s face when I’m spending time with them and giving them the bags. That is motivation to keep going so that I can see more smiling faces. Another motivation is knowing that homelessness still exists, I want to be a part of demolishing it.
Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?
YES! My ultimate goal is to demolish homelessness. There are certain things that should be basic human rights, clean water, clean air, health care, access to free education, as well as housing!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- To be more professional — I was very young so learning how to interact with adults was intimidating in the beginning. As time went on, I learned to command acknowledgment even if I was the youngest in the room.
- To be more involved in the operations and financial parts of the business. — I am now learning more about budgeting and the inner workings of running an organization but early on, I had no interest in it.
- How hard it was going to be to manage my schedule! I had no idea that having an organization could be so demanding on my time. Luckily my family chips in to keep me be on point but it is LOTS of hard work.
- Don’t wait to be great. You can make an impact right now, right where you are, no matter what age.
- Remember your “I Am” when you have a lot on your mind. Take some quiet time to yourself to reflect.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would inspire a movement of kid change agents. I think young people have fresh and amazing ideas. We are not afraid of dreaming and have not been met with lots of limitations that adults see. Sometimes these limitations and blocks dims creativity. I think if we have a movement of young people working on all types of initiatives to make the world better, we may just have a chance!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I would say “Don’t Wait To Be Great.” This is relevant because I didn’t wait and I believe others don’t have to either. Even if you are young, you can make a HUGE impact.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would choose Lebron James because he is a big inspiration to me, not only on the court but off too. The way he balances being in the NBA, and his philanthropy work wows me and that is what I want to do when I grow up. His business knowledge and the fact that he has kept his childhood friends in his life as his team, amazing!!
How can our readers follow you online?
Connect with me on Insagram @OfficialProjectIAm
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!