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Thursday, December 8, 2011

America Inspired: Amir Jackson nutures the creative mind Continue reading on America Inspired: Amir Jackson nutures the creative mind

It started 5 years ago, with one class in one elementary school.  Now, Amir Jackson and his foundation, Nurture the Creative Mind, have expanded across three counties and touched the lives of over 3,500 students.  Nurture the Creative Mind is a nonprofit foundation that helps at-risk children increase their self-esteem through self-expression and positive feedback. 

When asked why he started the foundation, and why he has dedicated the last five years of his life to its success, Jackson tells a story from his youth.  Due to some family difficulties, Jackson was sent to live with his grandmother and aunt.  “Aunt Pam and I bonded immediately, as if our connection had been ordained and determined before I took my first breath,” said Jackson.  One day, Jackson showed his aunt a piece of writing he had done.  “The piece of writing that I gave her reflected my emotional and mental state at the time…I had been acting out in school and at home shouting “SEE ME!,” finally, someone did.”  His aunt was encouraging and positive about the writing, and asked him to continue to write and to show it to her when he did.  “This positive statement of reinforcing encouragement along with her slight smile was enough for me to do just that.”

Jackson knows that his childhood troubles are not unique to just him.  “There are so many youth in our community, society, and the world over screaming 'SEE ME!'” He believes that his troubles were just a way to prepare him for what he was born to do—to see kids and to encourage their creative development and expression. “When I first began the Nurture the Creative Mind Foundation in 2007 I truly and honestly had no plans of building a foundation, I just saw the foot prints before me in the sand and I humbly accepted each by placing my feet in one at a time.”

Jackson’s success started at Lincoln Elementary in Layton, Utah, where he was a teacher’s assistant for a special education learning center.  The teacher, Ms. Theresa Larrabee, could tell Jackson was special from the first day he started.  “The mannerisms he had with the kids, he just had a calming effect on them.  He was in tune right away with what each kid needed individually.”  Jackson was assigned to Larrabee’s room to help with a specific child, but was always eager to reach out to all of the kids.  The kids were drawn to him, and responded well to his interactions.  And then, the music started.  Another volunteer, Victor Lawrence, had been coming in to read stories or play guitar with Larrabee’s class, and Jackson asked her if she thought Lawrence might be able to teach him some stuff on the guitar.  When Lawrence came in again, Jackson sat next to him and was able to mirror everything he did.  And from that moment on, he would play for the students, engaging them in even more ways.  Jackson started using poetry and music to help students in the other classes as well.  At the end of his first year at Lincoln Elementary, Jackson came up with the idea to host a Poetry Café in the school library as an evening performance for the kids to read their poetry.  Jackson engaged the community and had local businesses sponsor the event by donating coffee, hot chocolate, and snacks for the evening.  The school expected to have a handful of students and their parents attend, and were surprised to have hundreds of people show up.  “The kids were nervous before they got on, but then they’d start to read and they would just start beaming,” said Larrabee, fondly remembering the event.  “Kids write stuff and we pick it to pieces, we stifle the creativity sometimes because of ‘the way’ we’re supposed to teach language arts.  Amir gets to go in and is like an archeologist; he uncovers the hidden creativity these kids have, instead of expecting kids to write to a certain mold.”

Jackson spends his time developing the foundation, going to school, and working as a special education teacher’s aide in Davis School District.  Jackson’s impact reaches beyond just the students he is able to work with at school assemblies and other NCM workshops.  In April, Nurture the Creative Mind published its first book, Yes, I am Still Here,a 100 page book created and authored by young girls who are survivors of abuse.  These young girls demonstrate empowerment as they share stories of their abuses and the poems that were inspired by these abuses. The book is available for purchase via paypal on the Nurture the Creative Mind website.

In May of this year, NCM and Jackson teamed up with Chuk’s to host a fashion show as a fund raiser for the foundation.  In July, Jackson and others involved with the foundation held their annual “Starving for Education” hunger strike in front of the Starbucks on Hillfield and Antelope Drive in Layton.  The goal was to raise $2,500, and they pledged to continue the strike for as long as it took until the money was raised.  By 6 PM the night of the strike, they had met their goal.

Most recently, Jackson teamed up with Vintage Cupcake Co to host the first ever “Bake and Build” workshop. The younger group of kids developed team work and interpersonal relationship skills while baking cupcakes.  The older group also learned about the steps they would need to take to start a business on their own and developed leadership skills by coaching their peers.

Jackson also oversees Blank Page, a youth created and driven magazine that addresses the issues that are specific and important to the youth in the community.  Blank Page will be releasing its first issue in January, 2012.

Gandhi once said, “Be a positive role model, be the change you want to see in the world.”  Jackson responds to this by saying:

What I want to see is a society that embraces more than it shuns, one that actively encourages rather than passively, I want to see a society that is forward thinking and acknowledges the world’s greatest asset, our children, understanding that a positive investment in our youth today greatly lessons the need for negative investment later in life

At the foundation’s five year anniversary party, Jackson announced that beginning in February, 2012, Nurture the Creative Mind will begin touching the lives of the youth in Boston, MA; officially making them a national organization. 

Awards received:

Outstanding Community Service nominee 2010
Newman Civic Fellows Award 2011
Mayor's Award for Literacy and Arts Education 2011

Other links:
Standard Examiner: He helps children bloom
Davis County Clipper: Non-profit receives alcolades for helping students
Nurture the Creative Mind Blog

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