Dragon track team member strives to overcome stereotype
Forrest Jackson appears to be a typical college student. Jackson, 20, is a junior at MSUM majoring in exercise science and runs for the Dragons track team.
What looking at Jackson doesn’t tell is the story of a young man who is living to overcome the stereotype of African-American males.
“Don’t judge someone by how they appear to the eye,” Jackson said. “You don’t know their life story.”
Jackson was born in Baton Rouge, La., to a white mother and an African-American father. The neighborhood where he spent the first years of his life was rough. Guns, gangs and violence were a part of everyday life.
In October 1990, when Jackson’s older brother Skyler came home from the hospital after being born, a burning cross appeared in the family’s front yard.
“Interracial marriage was a problem,” Jackson said.
When Jackson was 5 years old, he moved to Frazee, Minn., a town of 1,350 people southeast of Detroit Lakes, Minn.
One reason the family made the move was because of the higher standard of education in Minnesota.
Jackson said his mother used to preach to her sons that “education is the only thing somebody can’t take away from you.”
At first the transition to Frazee wasn’t easy. The Jacksons were the first black family in the area.
Jackson said that since the boys were black and his mother was white, “My mom hated bringing us to grocery store.”
The boys would get uncomfortable stares from other shoppers who were not used to seeing a mixed-race family.
Frazee didn’t have hard racism, but in small town Minnesota, Jackson said, “People still had their view of what we were.”
Jackson’s parents divorced when he was 9 years old. At this point Skyler, only two years older, became Jackson’s father figure. Jackson said his brother would “tell me to do good in school, keep me on track and keep me from acting out.”
Jackson’s father wasn’t really in the picture after the divorce. Jackson said his dad had other priorities that didn’t include his family, and that’s why he chose to keep his father out of his life.
“I saw what I didn’t want to be, and I became the opposite,” Jackson said.
Jackson’s mother was a manager at liquor store and a bartender.
“She was sleeping when we got up; at work when we got home,” Jackson said.
He added that he “grew up faster than most kids.”
“Fending for ourselves taught me so much,” he said. “I know how to do everything on my own.”
Even with the struggles he faced, Jackson said, “I feel blessed for the childhood that I had.”
He recognized the third and fourth grade as a turning point in his life. He said his third and fourth grade teachers “opened my eyes to life and opened my eyes to breaking the stereotype of my African-American male.”
Making friends in school for Jackson started with athleticism. He said being the fastest and strongest kid in gym class somehow makes you the coolest.
One of the friends he made was Elijah Miosek.
Jackson said Elijah’s family was “my second, if not my first, family. Elijah’s mom called me son, made me dinner, would ask me what I wanted for dinner. Elijah already had a huge family, and I was still accepted.” Miosek’s siblings included nine brothers and two sisters.
Jackson said Elijah’s mom was the one who noticed his speed and got Jackson interested in track.
“I loved it—it gave me something to be proud of. People would applaud me. The positive reinforcement made me want to keep doing it.” Succeeding in track changed his life.
When Jackson entered high school track, his brother became his number one competitor. “We hated each other like brothers. He was huge competition, and that only made me better.”
Jackson said his biggest accomplishment in track was reaching the state track meet for all six of his high school years. His favorite part of high school track was being able to run with his brother, “like Batman and Robin.”
After a successful high school career, Jackson had the opportunity to be a member of the MSUM track team.
Jackson believes being a student athlete “sets you up for a promising future.” He said through his career he’s learned how to deal with stress and setbacks.
He describes his role on the track team as “not the number one athlete, but the motivator. I love to be the first there and last to leave, encouraging others to do their best. I get more satisfaction out of helping others do good.
“The team, the chemistry we have here, is seriously just like a family. They’re people you can always go to, a bond, a network to help each other out,” Jackson said.
Jackson also believes in having a strong relationship with a coach.
“They can teach you so many things; they have witnessed so many kinds of people,” he said.
Jackson enjoys being a student. “MSUM benefits me because I love the courses I’m taking,” he said. “I’m graduating in three years. I have never felt shorthanded by professors. (They’re) never superior, always willing to help.”
Through his life experiences, Jackson shared an important lesson he’s learned.
“Why limit yourself?” he said. “I hate limitations; there’s so much you can do when it comes to being a human being.”
After school, Jackson’s life goals include becoming a fitness instructor and living in Colorado. He would also love, one day, to hear someone say, “Forrest Jackson inspired me.”
“I want to be an inspiration to somebody, be something to help unlock other people’s potential,” Jackson said, “The only credit I need is seeing others be happy.”
BY TOMI THOMPSON