Janine Jackson, MA ‘17 was raised in an Oakland neighborhood hit hard by the ‘80s drug epidemic, and her family was no exception. Her mother struggled with addiction and she had an absentee father. They were homeless for a period of time, until friends from the local church took them in.
“My mom and my sister, who is six years older, taught me the art of hustling—going out and getting what you want. I saw my mom kick a drug habit and work two jobs to support us. I saw my sister work three jobs and still come out to see me play basketball,” she recalled.
Jackson started playing basketball in the third grade and continued to play competitively until she was 22. Basketball gave her a focus. Her coaches were early father figures and mentors. Her teammates were like family.
In college, when her grades fell too low to play on the team, she was forced to rethink her life direction. “Basketball was my passion, but I had to ask myself what else I was contributing besides putting a ball in a basket,” she said.
Growing up, I lost a lot of friends to the streets and incarceration. I’m not the sort of person who wants to sit and theorize why this is happening. I want to act and fix the problem.”
– Janine Jackson, MA ’17, Coach/Case Manager at Alameda County Independent Living Program
It took her almost 10 years at three different colleges to get her bachelor’s degree. It was a journey that made her all the more resilient and certain of her life’s purpose: to give back and help the Oakland community.
She knew she needed more education to do meaningful work, which is what brought her to Holy Names University. The University came highly recommended: her mother, Yolanda Bolden ’18, MA ’20 was finishing up her bachelor’s degree at HNU at the time.
In 2015, Jackson started the master’s in counseling and psychology program. As she described it, “My experience at HNU was phenomenal. The faculty all had different perspectives and they really pushed me to be an example for others. I knew I wanted to help people before I started the program and in the program I figured out how.”
“Growing up, I lost a lot of friends to the streets and incarceration. I’m not the sort of person who wants to sit and theorize why this is happening. I want to act and fix the problem,” she said.
While getting her master’s, Jackson started working for the Alameda County Independent Living Program (ILP), a government organization that helps foster and probation youth acquire independent life skills.
She knew how much athletics had helped her as a teenager, so she worked with her colleagues at ILP to put together a youth basketball program. The program quickly became one of the most popular at ILP.
The reason the youth responded to it is simple, Jackson explained, “Kids can just be kids and have fun. But they also learn communication, empowerment, and how to manage different perspectives on the court. These kids have amazing resilience—they have experienced and endured so much. I’ve seen this program make a difference for them.”
Beyond basketball, the program included visits by police officers, musicians, academic deans, and social workers. Jackson also helped organize Building Bridges, a community event that brings Oakland youth and the Oakland Police Department together to play basketball. This relaxed event helps the groups expand their perceptions of each other and change how they interact.
She explained, “I want to be an example and show these kids what’s possible. I have come so far and I want them to see that, like me, they can do anything.”
Last year, Jackson decided to go back to school at Walden University and is currently working on a doctorate degree in forensics and crisis management.