| This is the 221st story of Our Life Logs |
It’s no secret that I am a man who welcomes others with open arms, it’s just that many don’t know where that love of community came from.
1 | Family is Family
I didn’t have an ordinary upbringing, but I am not here trying to say that it was an awful life. I was born on July 14, 1983 in Hamilton, Ohio, and I had a great community supporting me along with a few close family members. However, one piece was always missing: my mother. She committed suicide when I was just eight months old, so everything I know about my mother was told to me. I know not many people can say that, and frankly, who would want to?
Though she left a hole in my life, I found comfort knowing that I still had my father, or at least, the man who I thought was my father. One of my earliest memories is when I was…maybe eight years old. I remember waiting on my father to come take me shopping to get a new Chicago White Sox Starter jacket because of my good grades. He never came. I just waited on my aunt’s porch for a long time. I think that was the first time I realized that I may have to go through life without any traditional parents.
A paternity test later revealed that the most recent man in my mother’s life at the time of my birth (the man who promised to take me shopping) was indeed not my father. Although I didn’t see him as much as others may have seen their fathers, I still had one…until suddenly, I didn’t. What does a young kid do at this point? It is a lonely feeling, I will tell you that.
With the devastating news and the disappearance of the man I thought was my father, there were many people who stepped up to make this rough situation better for me. I believe this is why I didn’t feel like I needed to go searching for a father—I felt complete, even if I wasn’t. One of those many people that stepped up was my aunt Johnnie. I was raised by my aunt, my mom’s sister, whom I have since called “mom.” From this woman, I learned to always do my best at whatever I did. I can still hear her say, “You may not be the best, but you will be your best.”
Living with my aunt was good, and I guess normalized me a bit. My cousin Kolby was also there, and with us being so close in age, we did all the things brothers would do and remain close to this day. Still, I just wanted to be a son. At around age thirteen; going through the stages of growth and maturity, I felt that it was time for a change. I went to live with my grandmother. There was no bad blood or any particular instance that led to it. It was just me needing my own space to grow and find who I was. I believe it was beneficial for both my cousin and me.
When you are in the type of situation I was in, low points come. I realize that some people grow up not having any support, and so I am grateful for my family. Still, the thoughts couldn’t be stopped of wondering what my mother was like. How we would interact? What would our relationship be like if she were still alive? Why me? The worst feeling is wondering if she took her life because of me. Was it me?
Thankfully, my people helped keep my mind in the fight. I look back on my childhood and see that the community helped me find success as an adult. Toughness, grit, and a never give up attitude bled through Hamilton. Those characteristics became a part of me. I saw those in front of me overcome things in their lives and I wanted to live up to that as well. From my grandmother, I learned how to be humble and quiet, to just navigate through all the highs and lows of life and handle things without necessarily saying too much. My coaches throughout my years showed me how to be a leader. I grew up playing sports and some of the older guys in the community coached me. They also gave me advice on life. I made lifelong friends and the memories, no matter how long ago, never seem to fade.
2 | Finding Myself
Growing up in an area where education was completed “because you had to” rather than because it was liked made me all the more unique. I loved school. I always got good grades, no behavior problems or anything like that. I was social and loved to talk and meet people.
Through school, I found my love of reading, especially biographies. I read the stories of Malcolm X, Colin Powell, and John Wooden. I identified with those people because they had tough lives growing up. I felt like if they could do it, then I could do it too. I planned to get out of my rough neighborhood and make something of myself.
I was accepted to Ashland University just south of Cleveland and began my studies in 2001. I had to leave my family, but I knew the payoff would be worth it.
When I got to campus, I think there were like 48 black students, so I really stood out. My high school had been predominantly white too, but I’d still go back to the hood after school and be able to blend in with my friends and neighbors. At Ashland, even when I left campus, I was still in a predominantly white area. It was the first time that I was away and the first time I felt like my identity played more into my life than ever before. There were stereotypes based on my skin color and how I dressed. I had spent years finding myself, just to be labeled in an instant. Many people didn’t know Hamilton, so I would tell people I was from Cincinnati. This was right around the time there were riots in Cincinnati because of the wrongful killing of an innocent, unarmed African American man, so people identified me with that. They’d be like, “Oh, Brian’s from Cincinnati. He must be aggressive.”
Being away and in an environment much different than what I was used to was confusing at first. I felt that I needed to change myself to fit in with the culture at Ashland. I thought I needed to act different, talk different, so that I would be accepted. After a while I had to look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t want to be that token black guy that was just around for demographics. I wanted to be wanted as an individual. I wanted to live and enjoy the experience, not just exist in it. I thought back to what my aunt always told me. I had to be my best, and to do that, I had to take in as much of the experience as I could.
I got involved in just about every extracurricular that was possible. I even became a resident assistant (RA) just to make myself a fixture on the campus. I just went back to what made me happy at home and in high school. I think once I did that, people started to like me for me. I was able to give them something tangible to base their thoughts off of instead of them basing it off assumption. Things are better when you live this way.
3 | Full Circle
A sense of community had been so important in my upbringing and I wanted to have it again after leaving home. It was different, but I felt like I had been groomed my entire life to insert myself in this moment. It was then I started to realize that working on a college campus was something that I wanted to do. I loved transitioning new students into the college culture. Seeing my work impact their lives sealed the deal for me.
I am currently the Assistant Director of Residence Life for the east campus at the University of Dayton. I directly supervise five full-time professionals who then supervise RA’s. I enjoyed my experiences as an RA and it just naturally progressed to this position. I just love being on campuses. I try to give a fresh perspective to students, helping them to find themselves as they decide how they are going to attack life. For me, it is about giving back and stepping in to help students feel comfortable, especially if it’s their first time away from home. I hope to continue to reach students and guide them through their years on campus. People have done so for me and I am just paying it forward.
My childhood may not have been conventional or fair, but so what? I was lucky enough to grow up with a strong community of loving, supportive people. I’m here and I’m going to make something out of it. I see how I was shaped and molded by the community and those inside of it. I love where I come from because it made me who I am today. This version of Brian doesn’t exist without them.
This is the story of Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson grew up in Hamilton, Ohio without traditional parents. Through this experience the community around Brian stepped up to fill in the holes left by his circumstances. Now, Brian uses his experiences to help others. Brian graduated with his Bachelor’s in Sports Management and pursued a few sports-related jobs before returning to a college campus. He is currently the Assistant Director of Residence Life for the east campus at the University of Dayton. He hopes that when people hear his story they can realize that anything is possible. He says, “I am happy to have come through the trying times that were before me. When I do settle down and have my own kids, they will benefit from the experiences that I have had.”
This story first touched our hearts on August 18, 2018.