“If you were to ask a friend of mine to find someone who smiles more than me, they would find it difficult. But I see that as my job – to challenge others to smile brighter, to be happier, and to be joyful. That smile arises from my ability to help others achieve open-mindedness and be positive enough to recognize their potential, capabilities, and passion.”
These are the words of Deanna Jackson of Ewing, NJ, a sophomore at Stockton University who has a passion for helping others. During her brief time at the University, Jackson has discovered her desire to facilitate social change. She has done this by facilitating acceptance, equality, and self-empowerment both at Stockton and in her community.
Jackson created a girls’ counseling group that focuses on empowerment by encouraging them to love themselves and recognize their value and talent as women in a society that makes it difficult for them to prosper fairly and equally, she explained. The group incorporates problem-solving, communication skills and building stronger relationships within their group of friends. This helped Jackson see she could make a difference.
One of her greatest accomplishments has been helping to build up programs that work with children in her community. During her internship in a counseling department, she witnessed the separation of families through divorce, death of a parent/guardian, abuse and child endangerment. Jackson worked with students to overcome those trials and helped build a program that alleviates hunger and promotes a balanced diet. Developing this program provided her with the opportunity to enhance her leadership and organizational skills.
Her work also served as inspiration for one of her future goals: opening a 24-hour non-profit counseling center for women and children suffering from domestic or societal issues. As a sophomore, Jackson realizes she needs to continue her education in Social Work with a concentration in Child Welfare to achieve her goals and also be involved in her community. To resolve issues in the community, she needs to be integrated into it and not only hear about experiences but also see them for herself. People will be able to identify that she is there to help.
Jackson is the vice president of the Unified Black Students Society at Stockton. She was recently promoted into that position by the executive board because of her dedication not only to community service but to the programs that create a socially inclusive environment. This past Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, Manar Hussein, the president of UBSS and Jackson created the first Teach-In community service. Having served on the executive board committee for both Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service and Multicultural Month, she felt it important to add more diversity on Stockton’s campus, as well as honor a man who not only served his community, but was an activist.
Jackson explains the Teach-In program: “I wanted people to realize the importance of education, historical reasoning, and voice of the oppressed as to why there are current civil conflict and race relations issues. As a whole we instilled moral obligation, empowered our community and even incorporated poetry for self-expression.”
Her fight for social change does not stop with UBSS; she is also the vice president and co-founder for Redefining Beauty. The Stockton club was created to change society’s perspectives on beauty and focus on inner confidence. Jackson explains the club’s goal for Stockton’s campus, “Our club looks to find the beauty in what others may not see and help to change the meaning of it all to fit in a bigger picture where the word ‘acceptance’ stands strong in the Stockton community.”
While growing up, she enjoyed singing in her church choir and being an active member in her church youth group.
Jackson said she thanks God every day for the support she receives from her family; they have always instilled confidence in her and help to motivate her even when she doubts herself. She said these words from Jeremiah 29:11 keep her going and help her be active in additional extracurricular activities: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declared the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
She is sergeant at arms for the African Student Association, a member of the Highest Praise Gospel Choir, the Social Work Club, part of the National Coalition Building Institute, a member of the Lambda Alpha Delta National Honor Society and the Phi Alpha Honors Society, an Admissions Ambassador, and Operations Assistant for Event Services. In the fall, she will become a Resident Assistant.
Jackson loves to crochet and make new things to show off her creative side while participating in a peaceful activity. She even helped create crocheting groups in schools to help teach children how to make scarves for the winter.
Having been heavily involved in many extracurricular activities, she said none has had an impact as profound as the UBSS. Her love for UBSS matured after meeting Manar Hussein, who was president of UBSS for two years. Manar helped her see the legacy that is the Unified Black Students Society, Jackson explained, “We were the first club on campus and had to fight for our right to have a voice. I have come to realize you cannot always be complacent with the position you are in.”
With hopes to become the next president of UBSS, Jackson knows she must look outside of herself to see how she can be an inspiration to others.
She has a minor in Africana Studies and the program has opened her eyes to a rich heritage that previously was not as prevalent in her life. The African American faculty and staff at Stockton – Distinguished Professor of Social Work & Africana Studies Dr. Patricia Reid-Merritt, Associate Professor of Communication Donnetrice Allison, Associate Dean of Students/Interim Director of Counseling & Health Services Stephen Davis, and many more that continue to help her daily – embraced her creativity and allowed her to participate in their efforts to allow African American students to stand out in many ways.
Jackson reflects on her time at Stockton while looking toward the future: “The greatest movements die out because no one takes over. Many people in our generation seek originality, rather than preserve what is already here that needs to be improved.”
“I believe a huge part of my position in this society is continuing the work started by those that have inspired and motivated me and preserve their legacy,” she continued. “This work is not perfected as the world around us will never stop needing help. I want to be the innovative mind and leader that builds on what is already here, from ideas, organizations, and movements. To be a leader who promotes social change that stays humble and teaches others how to also lead and carry on the work, creating a ripple effect. This movement is not about being in the spotlight but rather reaching as many lives as we can and to shed light on all.”