INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Taking home a Christmas gift and enjoying a holiday party is a special celebration for students at Phalen Leadership Academy, and former Colt Marlin Jackson is working to make these smiles happen year round.
“I think it’s all about the fact that somebody thought about you, because sometimes these children may not have a Christmas at all at home,” Jackson said. “So we want to let them know that we care, we’re here and we’re thinking about you and we care about you and I think that goes a long way for a child to have someone stop and recognize them and let them know that they’re special and they’re important and that they matter.”
“So when you have resources like that, anything is possible,” the Super Bowl-winning cornerback said. “A lot of people see me out in the forefront, but it’s only the relationships that are behind me that fuels everything with Fight for Life. I’m so appreciative of all these corporations that choose to support us.”
However, this is just one aspect of Jackson's “Building Dreams” program which teaches students Kindergarten through sixth grade applicable skills and life lessons.
“It’s really all about developing a positive mindset and the ability to cope socially and emotionally with the things they will experience in life,” Jackson explained.
“Building Dreams builds up character with the kids, and the kids just love all the different topics that we discuss weekly,” Kim Graham, who serves as the Dean of Culture at Phalen Leadership Academy, said. “We’ve done financially literacy, we’ve done discipline, we’ve done goals, so it’s programs that we build on every week.”
Jackson knows firsthand how important it is to be involved, not just around the holidays, but throughout the year.
“You can’t make a lasting impact in one or two days, there has to be consistency to it, and that’s what we believe in,” Jackson said. “And I developed that mindset through athletics – consistency and repetition – that’s how you get better and that’s how you learn. That’s the same strategy behind ‘Building Dreams’ and everything we do at Fight for Life.”
The Super Bowl champion's passion to make a difference in the daily lives of children in underserved areas comes from his own motivation to overcome circumstances and now inspire the next generation.
“It starts with where I came from, I grew up in the ghetto from an underserved community, my mother was a drug addict and I never met my father,” Jackson, who played five seasons with the Colts, explained. “Coming here to Indianapolis I went to that community and when I found that need here, I devoted my time to it.”
“For kids to see someone like him who has come from where he’s come and achieved what he’s achieved, I can tell the kids they can do that too,” Graham added.
And while this year's program has impacted a record number of kids, Jackson says next year there will be even more to celebrate.
“It’s so rewarding, but yet we’re still relentless in trying to do more and serve more of these kids.”