This week, NewsChannel 9’s Jennifer Sanders continues our “Victory Over Violence” series – shifting the focus from mugshots and arrests — to impact and solutions.
Several years ago, Anthony Jackson, Jr. was sent to prison for his involvement in a gang. That’s where he had an eye-opening experience that changed him and helped him fulfill a new calling.
Jackson is at McKinley Brighton Elementary in Syracuse every week.
If you’re inside the classroom and you just listen to the laughter and look at the smiles, you can tell he means a lot to these students.
He’s not a teacher or a part of the staff, he simply gives his time.
“Raised on the south side of Syracuse and being the product of my environment; stepping off the porch and I would see gang activity, gun violence, drugs and liquor stores, its hardship in the community, I became a product of that,” Jackson said.
He fell into the wrong crowd and made a mistake that could have cost him his life.
“I involved myself in the street gang, Bootcamp and made the wrong decisions, I involved myself in the wrong activities sold drugs and different things that caused me to end up in prison,” Jackson said.
It was a major wake up call; life behind bars showed him that life on the streets wasn’t all it cracked up to be.
“I thought I found pleasure and happiness in the streets and women and fame and drugs and money, but when you are down and in that cell, none of those things mean anything because they are not there with you,” Jackson said.
A harsh reality behind prison walls, that changed his perspective on life.
“I remember telling my grandma I was tired and she said, ‘give Jesus a try’ and that’s what I did and ever since then it has been a hunger to grow and mature do something positive,” Jackson said.
That’s when R.O.Y.A.L. VISIONS started. It’s an acronym for “Raising Our Youth As Leaders.”
“Royalty is passed down, so you passed down jewels, wisdom, understanding, encouragement, motivation, you try to uplift the young men help them with homework and help them be a role model,” Jackson said.
He started volunteering at the Mary Nelson Center. This program has now expanded McKinley-Brighton.
Three days a week, he spends time with the students, mentoring them in hopes of putting them on the right path.
Educators there say he’s teaching students lessons they might not learn in the classroom, but one they will carry with them for a lifetime.