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Using His Past Experiences to Help Others

J. JacksonCommunity leader and MCTC alum Jason Jackson faced scrutiny and backlash from his high school peers in Georgia when he revealed he was gay at the age of 14.

“I dealt with a lot of bullying,” he said. “It affected my everyday life.”

He was called names, taunted and pushed around. The bullying reached its peak when a student started a fight with him over his sexual orientation. Jason fought back and was suspended.

It was a dark time in his life. He had little support from adults and didn’t know how to handle the bullying.

After finishing high school and spending a short time in New York City, Jason came to Minnesota in 2008 for “something new.” He wanted to attend a college, but he didn’t plan on jumping headfirst into a university. He was seeking a place that would help him with the transition back to school. Picking MCTC was an easy choice for him—the College’s urban, downtown location and New York-style apartments around the campus were a key selling point.

“MCTC was a great way to transition into higher education,” he said. “It allowed me to ease back into schooling while still making a living.”

Jason attended MCTC for general education courses and received his associate of arts degree in Liberal Arts. During his time at the College, he took a Women’s Studies course that covered topics such as sexism, racism, gender and sexuality. The coursework and class debates engaged Jason and brought his experiences in high school full circle.

“It changed the way I thought about life and social justice,” he said. “It was groundbreaking to discuss these topics in an academic setting.”

While at MCTC, one of Jason’s friends approached him about organizing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) events with Twin Cities Black Pride. This invitation became a learning experience he would never forget. Reaching out to people in the LGBT community was something that felt comfortable and right to him. The more he did it, the more he realized that it was something he wanted to make a career out of.

Jason transferred to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (U of M) in 2010 to pursue his bachelor of art’s degree in Communication Studies. He remained active in the LGBT community through his involvement with Twin Cities Black Pride. After seeing a play by the group in July 2010, which starred Jason, staff members from the U of M’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and ally (GLBTA) Programs Office encouraged him to apply for an internship. He was offered a position with the office in fall 2010.

While interning at the GLBTA Programs Office, Jason reflected on the absence of LGBT groups and guidance at his school when he came out as a teenager. He learned that everyone needs resources and a support system.

“I wanted to create a comfortable environment,” he said. “If you’re comfortable, you’re going to do well at school.”

Jason set out to create a safe environment for students like him, and co-founded the Tongues Untied club with the president of the college’s Black Student Union. The club space became a setting where professors and graduates could hold dialogues on issues that pertained to LGBTA students of color.

The club was so successful, it inspired the creation of a community initiative. Jason is humbled to have seen the project he helped start become what it is today.

“It’s really great to see what this project has become,” he said.

His work in the LGBT community earned Jason the position of assistant director at the U of M’s GLBTA office. He now helps coordinate GLBTA campus education and training and works with community members on behalf of the office.

The now 32-year-old truly believes that his work found him. Much of his identity is reflected in his work, and he has the opportunity to mentor and work with young adults who have stories like his.

“I feel like it’s now my responsibility to support the ‘old Jason Jackson’ and make sure no one has to go through what I had to go through,” he said.

Jason is continuing his education and pursuing his master’s degree in Higher Education. He is also helping to plan a first-ever Midwest conference for LGBTA people of color.

“If it wasn’t for MCTC, I wouldn’t be doing what I was doing,” he said.

Published August 2014


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