A few weeks ago, newly-minted Tuskegee University alumnus Derrick Jackson’s blog captured my attention in a big way. His post If I Can Do It… had come on the heals of an impassioned Twitter debate by several members of the HBCU community on the merits of dress codes following the announcement of Florida A & M University officials that the school would be implement a code of dress soon. I had to know more about the fascinating transformation of this testament to Tuskegee’s trans-formative powers.
Even at a distance, the profile of Derrick Jackson is impressive, if not downright alluring. Tailored suits and a collection of scarves as well as wing-tipped shoes and loafers tell you a lot about the man he is today.
This is the story of how Tuskegee helped him become that man.
Popularly know as Jaxn, his first memory of an HBCU was when he was in 9th grade. That Thanksgiving, BET played the Turkey Day Classic football game between Tuskegee University and Alabama State. It was his first time seeing an all-black college football team as well as the surrounding atmosphere–namely the bands.
However, it wasn’t just football that brought Jaxn to Tuskegee as a student. His grades were good, but he didn’t have a lot of money and he didn’t know it was possible to go to college without it. He recalled, “I wasn’t at all familiar with loans and scholarships, I just figured it was all out of reach for somebody who didn’t already have family in college.”
Dubbed Booker T. Washington’s ”fragile in the Alabama Black Belt” by historian David Levering Lewis, As a result, Jaxn says Tuskegee University “was fortunately my only choice for higher education.”
The “Tuskegee Experience” is special to Jaxn, who characterizes his journey at Tuskegee as one shaped by both trial and error. He arrived on the campus in 2007 in baggy pants that even harnessed by a belt, hung below his narrow waist, with a chip on his shoulder and an attitude long since replaced by the confidence and competence of his true swagger.
“I learned almost everything the ‘hard way.’ Coming here, I didn’t have my hand held through hardships. How I carried myself, how I interacted with my peers, and how I went about making my presence felt all had to change if I was going to leave here with a degree. My football teammates were the only family I knew. That environment was very rugged but developed my work ethic to a point where I knew if I could handle that, nothing else could ever be ‘too hard.’ It was my sleep schedule (or lack thereof) because of being a college student-athlete, that let me surpass obstacles that may have stopped other persons.”
While Tuskegee strengthened Jaxn’s personal resolve, he readily acknowledges that his development was in no small measure, due to the support he received at Tuskegee. “I was nurtured by teachers who were personally invested in my success because of the black community’s need for leaders and difference-makers.”
Ready to develop into a man that sparked needed change in the world, Jaxn’s worldview began to change. And he did too. “My mission originally was centered around me, but as the years went on I realized my potential in living for forthcoming generations of leaders. Tuskegee taught me that any level of success will require you to sacrifice. I learned how to ‘make it happen’ here at Tuskegee University.”
Even before he had his degree in-hand, Jaxn accepted a job with Altria Group, a Fortune 500 company in North Carolina, as a territorial sales manager. He’s also a talented photographer and dabbles in investments. His goal is to be financially independent of his career in corporate America.
Because Tuskegee facilitates the smooth integration of young minority men and women into a changing world, Jaxn credits Tuskegee with his ability to thrive even in corporate America. “I believe I learned a lot about myself as a black man being in an environment full of minorities. I’m all about helping people but I definitely believe in taking care of home first. The black community is home for me.”