- Associated Press - Friday, February 17, 2017

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) - When Curtis Jackson was in third grade, he wanted to be white.

It wasn’t the skin color he envied, it was the privileges that seemed to come attached to it. He wanted what white people had - wealth, a nice house, the good life - things almost everyone wants.

But in pre-civil-rights-movement America, these things weren’t available to people of color such as himself. If asked, he could never have imagined a black president. He could never have seen himself as a banker, a lawyer or a senator.

The only people he saw of his own race who had what he wanted were pimps and drug dealers. So, a drug dealer was what Jackson became.

He did well for himself for a little while in Junction City - extremely well. Then-County Attorney Steve Opat estimated Jackson’s homegrown business brought in about $2.2 million every six weeks before he was busted and sent to prison.



Before his arrest, however, he lived the high life - the life he says he might be living now if he’d gone about achieving his dreams the normal way. When no one would sell Jackson and his wife a house in the neighborhood they wanted to live in, Gery Schoenrock built one for him - the house Jackson was eventually busted in.

He still remembers the address: 1918 Sunflower Dr.

He remembers the date, too: June 3, 1984.

During the course of his arrest, a 17-year-old boy was killed - something that haunts Jackson to this day.

“You look back and say, ‘Hey, this very well could have been one of mine,’” he said.

Jackson did two stints in prison for his involvement with drugs - from 1985 to 1989 and then from 1991 to 2005 - totaling 18 years. One of his four children, three of whom followed in his footsteps and ended up in jail, was in prison at the same time Jackson was, though he didn’t know it at the time.

The mentoring program he’s now working on started out as a letter to his son. It blossomed until Jackson had binders full of information and ideas as to how to keep kids from going down the same path he had.

He calls it “Our Workshop” and it’s meant to offer children the key to living the best life they can.

The problem is finding an avenue for the program to develop.

He has spoken with the Twelfth Street Community Center and Mayor Phyllis Fitzgerald.

Right now, no one has the funds to support a program such as Jackson‘s.

The best avenue for Jackson’s program might be through an organization that’s already established - such as Unified School District 475.

But the school district can’t hire someone with his record.

It’s ridiculously hard for a convicted felon to find a job. It’s especially hard, Jackson has found, to find employment working with children.

Despite this, he feels he has something to offer the community. Jackson feels his experience makes him uniquely qualified to turn youth away from the life he lived. Having had it all and lost everything, he feels children would feel more compelled to listen to him than someone with nothing but second-hand knowledge.

“I’m giving them what a Ph. D in the street life had to offer,” he says.

He hopes if he can get his program off the ground, it can be used to present kids with a blueprint for life that doesn’t include drugs and other shady behavior.

Ideally, everyone would have a mentor or someone in their life to point them in the right direction, but the reality is not everyone does.

He said things are better than they were in the 1960s, but there are still children who don’t realize their own potential. Not everyone has an equal opportunity to pursue the American dream.

“The president is talking about making America great again, but America can’t be great again if their youth do not prosper,” he says.

He believes the key to making America great again lies in allowing everyone to realize their potential for greatness.

“In my eyes, that greatness is in each and every one of them,” he says.

Jackson knows he has done wrong in his life - tremendously wrong - but he also knows there are kids out there about to make the same mistakes he did. He wants them to know they don’t have to.

“Some people want to be rich,” Jackson says. “Richness ain’t just in monetary value … It’s whatever you want to be. That’s what the American dream is.”

He wants to do as much good for the community as he once did bad. In a very real way, Jackson’s leanings toward civic involvement are as much about redeeming himself as anyone else.

Something cannot be taken back once its done - that 17-year-old boy who died during Jackson’s arrest isn’t coming back to life and he knows it - but he believes he can turn the experience into something positive.

Jackson believes society would benefit by seeing all children as their own. If a child fails, or slips through the cracks - if a child loses his or her life before it even begins - this is a loss not simply for the parents but for the community and even the nation as a whole.

Now in his 60s, Jackson isn’t raking in the millions. He works at the Russell Stover factory in Abilene and looks for ways to turn his mentoring program into a reality.

This can’t happen without funding and without help from someone who knows their way around nonprofits. Jackson has the blueprints for something useful, something to benefit the community as a whole.

But he can’t do it alone.

___

Information from: The (Junction City, Kan.) Daily Union, https://www.dailyu.com

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