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Dr. James T. Jackson: “The arts saved my life”

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When Dr. James T. Jackson first moved to Washington, DC, in 2001, he would walk from his new office at George Washington University to the Kennedy Center every day after work to clear his mind and renew his spirit. “DC is a hard place, especially if you don’t know a lot of people,” he says. “The Kennedy Center really saved me my first year.” Dr. Jackson firmly believes that more people, especially students and teachers, should take advantage of the many offerings at the Kennedy Center including participating in the educational programs. He knows first-hand how the arts can change a life.

Growing up in the small town of Hodges, South Carolina, Dr. Jackson was considered to be a troubled child. His mother worked as a sharecropper until he was twelve years old and then she became a domestic working long hours. “We were very poor. I wanted to do something with my life but I didn’t have any role models,” Dr. Jackson remembers. He reflects sadly that everyone he knew growing up is either an alcoholic or dead. “I didn’t have any direction until I started the sixth grade in Mrs. Taylor’s classroom.” Mrs. Taylor recognized his creative talents and cast him in a singing role in the class play. Dr. Jackson credits Mrs. Taylor with introducing him to a way of learning through music and drama that put him on a different path.

Not only was he the first person in his family to graduate from high school, he also went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree, an MFA in Acting and Directing and a doctorate in special education. “Teachers can mold children by exposing them to educational programs such as the great ones offered by the Kennedy Center. Parents might not be equipped to provide these types of opportunities.”

He praises the Kennedy Center’s programs for students and teachers, such as ArtsEdge, and plans to have his own student-teachers at Howard University, where he is now a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, incorporate the Kennedy Center’s programs into their lesson plans.

Dr. Jackson knows what it feels like to give back. “I feel that I owe a debt, which is why I wanted to give back to the Kennedy Center by making the Center the beneficiary of my life insurance policies. I want other people to have the opportunities that I had. What really matters is what you want for yourself in life and how you dedicate yourself to achieving it.”

Dr. Jackson’s generosity ensures that the Kennedy Center will be able to continue to provide arts-integrated educational programs to thousands of children every year, allowing them to explore their creative outlets and discover possibilities for growth and positive development through the arts.

The Center sincerely thanks Dr. Jackson for his admirable forethought in planning his legacy to include the Kennedy Center.


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