Jahkil Jackson of Chicago, Illinois is one busy young man. He’s a student, a tap dancer, a basketball player, an actor, a model, and he’s a social entrepreneur who is on a mission to help the homeless in Chicago and throughout the world. At his young age of 10, he’s already given out over 6,000 Blessing Bags to those in need. Blessing Bags are filled with basic items that homeless need to improve their lives.
And, President Obama honored Jahkil’s work on Twitter and in-person.
Jahkil’s middle name is Naeem, which means to give without expecting anything back. His work through creating a social enterprise, Project I Am, has taken off. He is a role-model for other kids, a gift to those in need, and a young businessman who is going places.
According to his website, he created the social entrepreneurship program, Project I Am when he was 8-years-old. After helping his aunt distribute food to the Chicago homeless, he knew that he wanted to do more to make a difference. Jahkil Jackson is on a mission, and he has a strong desire to help those in need.
Jahkil also works closely with the non-profit organization, Dreams for Kids. Tom Tuohy, a Chicago lawyer, speaker, author, and social entrepreneur founded the nonprofit Dreams for Kids, Inc in 1989. Tuohy and his team work with at-risk youth and those with disabilities. His work with youth inspired him to create an award-winning program that replaces charity with opportunity. Youth, sponsored by individuals and local businesses, learn essential entrepreneurship skills as they build social enterprises.
At 19, as I started my freshman year at DePaul University, I was already working for a lawyer, and I was a jerk-a real punk with long hair and a longer attitude. But one day, Jesse White walked into the law office. The day Jesse White took me into Cabrini Green was the day I stopped feeling sorry for myself. While we lived below the poverty level, seeing how kids in the Greens lived, made me realize how fortunate I was and that I had something to give. I was no longer a victim. Jesse has been my lifelong mentor. But it took a village to raise me.
And today, Tuohy is fortunate to work with kids like Jahkil.
Tuohy met Jahkil when he volunteered to bring his Blessing Bags to the Dreams for Kids’ Holiday for Hope event. Each year in December, communities come together to celebrate the holidays for homeless children. Holiday for Hope gives every child a chance to experience the joy, generosity, and love of the holiday season filled with food, gifts, music, dancing and more.
When Jahkil was 5, he managed a resource table at Holiday for Hope. Tuohy met with his parents after the event, and he enrolled in the Dreams for Kids YES (Youth Enterprise Solutions) program as the youngest student in the history of the program.
By the time they met, he had already achieved the second phase of the Dreams for Kids entrepreneurship course.
I had the opportunity to chat with Jahkil Jackson. In this interview, which has been edited and condensed, Jahkil shares his story, mission, business tips, and his plans for the future.
Robyn Shulman: Jahkil, Can you please tell me about yourself?
Jahkil Jackson: I am a 10-year-old 5th grader from the South Side of Chicago. I have been tap dancing since I was 4, breakdancing since I was 7, and my favorite thing to do is play basketball. I am always playing in some form of a basketball tournament.
Shulman: Can you tell me about Project I Am? What is it all about and why did you start it?
Jackson: Project I Am is my organization that my family helped me start about two years ago. I started it because I wanted to do something to bring awareness to homelessness. My organization creates and gives out Blessing Bags to the homeless and those in need.
Shulman: What are Blessing Bags and what do you put in them for the homeless?
Jackson: Blessing Bags are blessings in a bag! They are full of toiletry items like soap, tissue, toothpaste, toothbrushes, socks, lotion, and hand sanitizer. These are basic things that can help the homeless on a daily basis.
Shulman: How many bags have you given away so far?
Jackson: In 2016, my goal was to give out 1,000 bags, and I gave out 1,627! In 2017, my goal was to give out 5,000 bags, and I am proud to say I went over my goal and gave out over 6,000 bags including 250 in Los Angeles. Some of those bags were sent to hurricane victims in Florida, Houston, and Puerto Rico.
Shulman: Where do you get the resources to fill the bags?
Jackson: Many people have donated actual toiletry items, and some donate money to my website so that I can go to the stores to buy the items myself. Schools and businesses that have run toiletry item drives at their locations have been a tremendous help, too.
Shulman: Have you given Blessing Bags away to those who need them outside of Chicago? If so, where?
Jackson: Yes, in partnership with the Simeon Basketball Team, I sent bags to hurricane victims Puerto Rico. I also shipped bags to hurricane victims in Houston thanks to a sponsorship by Fox 32 Chicago. Lastly, I sent bags to Florida hurricane victims.
Shulman: What is it like to be a young social entrepreneur?
Jackson: It makes me happy and proud to be a social entrepreneur; I enjoy seeing smiles on faces of those I can help. It is a lot of hard work, but the smiles make it all worth it.
Shulman: How does your school support you?
Jackson: My school did a toiletry item drive for me to help reach my goal of 5,000 blessing bags in 2017.
Shulman: You’re also working with Dreams for Kids and their social entrepreneurship program. How is that going for you and what have you learned so far?
Jackson: I am excited about this program because I look forward to learning new things in business. The biggest thing that I have learned so far is not to let anyone hold me back. The lessons are interesting, so I hope to learn a lot by the time I complete the course.
Shulman: In 2017, President Barack Obama and the Obama Foundation acknowledged you for being someone who has made a difference in society on Twitter and in-person. Please tell us about that exciting day.
Jackson: When President Obama tweeted about me, my mom told me, and I played it cool. I was wondering if it meant that we would get to have lunch together or something. The best part is about two months after the tweet, I was invited to a special reception and the surprise was that he was there! President Obama knew my name, and I was so nervous. To know that someone like him knows my name, and supports what I do encourages me to keep moving forward every day.
Shulman: You’ve accomplished and helped so many at such a young age. What is the most important thing you would tell your friends or classmates regarding social entrepreneurship?
Jackson: I encourage them to start off small with whatever they want to do. I suggest they build a website so that people can learn about you and your mission. I always tell my peers don’t wait until they are adults; they can be great now.
Shulman: If one of your classmates wanted to start their own social entrepreneurship program, what are the three most important steps you would teach them?
Jackson: Figure out what you are passionate about, the change you would like to make, and how you can potentially make it into a business. Figure out who your market is, and take baby steps. Be prepared to work hard.
Shulman: Tell me about the future. How many Blessing Bags would you like to give away by the end of this year?
Jackson: This year, I have a goal of 6,000 blessing bags distributed but I want to partner with kids across the country to make this happen. I already have a couple of cities in action for Project I Am, including Idaho and Virginia. I look forward to growing. I also want to bring the tiny house movement to Chicago like the one in Detroit. Since I was five, I have always wanted to figure out how to get people off of the streets.
Shulman: Will you be expanding your current offerings or adding more resources to your bags?
Jackson: I do want to offer information about places people can go to see a doctor, shelters in the city so they can lay their head indoors and also find places that can help them get on their feet with job training.
Shulman: You have a store on the Project I Am website. Can you tell me about the store?
Jackson: My store sells pillows. I use money from the pillow sales to purchase more toiletry items. I sell the products on the website as well as at different community events. I plan to set up in a few stores this year as well. I also started a clothing line called Trophies to make additional money to purchase toiletry items. Trophies has shirts, fidget spinners, and hats. In the future, I would love to sell jackets, pants and hoodies.
Shulman: When you grow up, do you want to continue working as a social entrepreneur? If so, can you please tell us why and how you plan on doing it?
Jackson: I do plan to continue as a social entrepreneur.
I am a businessman, and I want to own my own NBA Team, so I have a lot of work ahead of me. I am already working on plans to make sure this happens. When I grow up, I want to be a part of the solution to end homelessness and help the underserved in this country.
Shulman: Lastly, any big plans coming up shortly that you’d like to share?
Jackson: I will be doing a speaking tour this summer across the country, and I am so excited to hit the road.
Shulman: Jahkil, I’m sure we are going to hear a lot about you and your missions in the future. Keep up the great work.
Disclosure: I met Tom Tuohy in 2012, and had the opportunity to participate in some of the Dreams for Kids initiatives.