We first met Jahkil in 2019 when we partnered with him to distribute Luci lights to those affected by Hurricane Dorian. Since then we've worked with Jahkil to provide light and security to homeless populations in Chicago, and continue to be inspired by him everyday.
Philanthropist and founder of Project I AM - an organization building awareness of, and helping the homeless population - 13-year old Jahkil Jackson has already accomplished so much in his short years that even the best of us would be proud of. From delivering "Blessing Bags" to over 50,000 people in his hometown Chicago and beyond, to meeting President Obama, to writing a book; Jahkil is certainly destined for great things.
Ok, something simple to start off. Three words to describe yourself.
3 words to describe myself are, giving, determined, and intelligent.
How did you get started with your work helping communities? Were there any personal events or experiences that motivated you to start your work?
I went to feed the homeless chili with my aunt when I was 5 years old. I had no idea about homelessness then so I was really confused, asking lots of questions. I wanted my parents to buy them all homes but since we could not do that, they helped me come up with an idea that I could handle at such a young age. So at 8 years old my parents and my grandma helped me put together my first ever packing party. About 15 of my family and friends helped me make 88 blessing bags and I passed them out at a shelter and after that I wanted to keep going!
Tell us more about your "Blessing Bags". What do you include?
I include socks, lotion, soap, masks, rubber gloves, toothpaste, granolas, toothbrushes, mouthwash, tissue, lip-balm, combs, shampoo and sanitizing wipes. During the winter months, if I have enough donations, I include hats and gloves as well and in the summer I include bottled waters.
What do you enjoy the most about having your organization?
What I enjoy most is being able to see the smiles on homeless peoples faces when they receive the bags. That really gives me motivation to keep helping the community. It makes me want to do even more!
Do you promote social impact issues at school?
Unfortunately I don’t promote social impact issues at my school. I do promote it at other schools though lol.. The climate at my school does not allow me to be myself. It's not considered cool to be giving and caring at my school so to keep the distractions down, I have my attention on school because being teased does not help with focusing on academics.
What’s next for Project I AM?
I am gearing up to host my 2nd virtual packing party. This time we have 136 youth from over 70 cities from around the country signed up to participate. We will make 5,000 blessing bags for the homeless at the same time! I would also like to build Tiny Homes in Chicago to actually help people have somewhere to live. I am feeling like my temporary solution is not good enough anymore.
Who’s the biggest influence in your life?
We’ve seen a photo of you holding a mic at 3 years old. Were you ever nervous speaking in front of crowds or in front of the camera?!
Oh wow, that photo was taken at an event with my dad! When I first started public speaking, I was most definitely nervous but I started practicing, got coaching and had the opportunity to speak in front of 15,000 youth. This helped me gain so much confidence.
What do you like to do in your free time?
In my free time I like to play basketball, play XBox, make youtube videos and research sneakers.
You were/are part of the Marvel Hero Project. Tell us a bit more about that.
Funny thing is that this opportunity popped up out of no-where! This was such an amazing experience for me. MARVEL chose ME, a black kid from Chicago to make a superhero! I have my own comic book! I'm in the same conversation as Spiderman and Captain America, not many people can say this!
Who do you work with in creating your merch, or do you mostly design everything yourself?
I work with my dad on lots of the designs!
If you could have dinner with anyone (living or passed), who would it be and why?
I would choose to have dinner LeBron James. I would love to pick his brain and learn how he had managed to balance being an unbelievable elite basketball player, a husband and father along with creating a school in his home town AND being so involved in the community PLUS tapping into the film industry AND business ownership. It is so encouraging to see someone at his level not being afraid for standing up for injustices. In the past, many athletes have been afraid to do that because they may get fired and black balled.
You met President Obama a few years back! How was that experience?
That was one of the best days of my life! I was invited to a reception but when my mom and I got there, it was a room with a few other people and we were just kind of standing around talking. I was the only kid, and because this was the wackest reception I had ever seen because there was no food, no drinks, no chairs or anything! Just when we were ready to leave, someone came out to say that Obama was going to come to talk to us! I was so excited, I was the 1st one that got to have a conversation with him and the coolest part is that he did not need to be reminded of who I was, he knew exactly who I was. He said he was proud of me and that he would help me with Tiny Homes in the future!
You just turned 13! Did you do anything special for your birthday?
I had a small dinner with some friends and family and go-carting with my friends. My dad got me the dopest basketball shoe (Nike Adapt BB) and my GG had the coolest triple decker cake made for me!I was worried that I would not be able to do anything because of quarantine. I attended like five 13th birthday zoom parties!
You started your new school year last week - remotely. How was the first week back?
My first weeks back was surprisingly good! I was not expecting it to be decent because the close of 7th grade was ROUGH! In terms of academics it was good, I am on a role now! Got all A's so far! I was getting headaches though from being on the screen too much (but I have the screen protector now).
How has COVID-19 affected your Project I AM work?
COVID 19 has affected Project I Am from many angles. It has been difficult achieving my goal of impacting 15,000 homeless people by the end of 2020 because of my different avenues of income for the organization has slowed down. This includes donations that I would get from schools that I speak at and individual donations due to rising unemployment and more people are being careful with their money because of the uncertainty of the economy.
We’ve seen you work with other inspiring young people. Who are some of your favorite peers who you’d like to give a shout out to?
Khloe "Khloe Kares", Jordyn Lenae, Anah Ambuchi, CJ Matthews, Alyssia "Alyssia's Dream", Tamia "Mia's Treats", Mikey, Mari "Little Miss Flint", Braden Baker, Elijah Lee and Ryan Hickman, Havana "Tiny Diplomat", and Gabriel Benetiz.
You were recently in Flint, Michigan. Tell us a bit about what you were doing over there?
I was there to support my friend Mari "Little Miss Flint". She held her annual back to school back pack give away, so I donated school supplies and blessing bags for the residents of Flint Michigan. My parents said we could take a quick 5-hour road trip to go help her since it was my birthday weekend.
You’ve been actively involved in trying to affect change around the racial tensions that have rightly been at the forefront of our country this summer. Tell us about some of your work over the past few months?
I decided to hit up some of my bros to join in on a PSA to bring attention to the fact that there are racial injustices with black people in this world. While the adults are the current leaders, young people have to be a part of the conversation as well because we are the future leaders. That was such a powerful piece because there were 13 of us from all over the country working together on one project, showing solidarity for black lives. Why do we even have to say that black lives matter? That should be a given!
We’ve seen you active in the peaceful protests in the Southside. How important is it for young people to be involved in social and political discourse?
I have also participated in a couple of marches in my city to show my support. I feel that it is very important for young people to be involved because in order for the world to be a better place there needs to be some immediate changes with mindsets.
This summer has been challenging to say the least. What do you see as our biggest challenges as a society?
Our biggest challenges are lack of accountability and lack of communication. Another problem is being stuck in the past and not wanting to evolve. We have to be about forward movement.
You and your generation are the future. What can we expect different from you that you aren’t seeing today?
My generation is bringing fresh brains to the table. We are better at accepting differences. My generation works better with diversity, I see less discrimination amongst Generation Z.
What’s next for Jahkil?
What's next for me is striving for greatness in high school and getting recruited by my favorite colleges!
Before we wrap this up, leave us with a parting thought or quote?
Don't Wait To Be Great! Kids…we are not too young to start our own businesses and organizations. Adults…don’t let your current state keep you from striving for greatness, whatever that looks like for you!
Keep up-to-date with all of Jahkil's projects here.
All week long, every Give Luci purchase will go directly to Project I AM to help support Jahkil's mission. Click here to donate a Give Luci.