Former college and pro football star Keith Jackson had a vision for life after football. It involved helping kids break the cycle of poverty and poor educational achievement.
“I was actually really thinking about what my purpose in life was,” said Jackson, a Little Rock native. “I was playing for the Philadelphia Eagles at the time, I was sleeping in my bed and I’m going now, ‘What is my purpose in life? I know is not to just be a football player.’ One of my dear friends, Reggie White, made this statement. He said, ‘If I’m only known for being a football player, then I’ve failed life miserably.’ And I thought it was a great statement, but I wanted to know my purpose. And so I kept asking God, ‘What is my purpose? What am I here for? What am I supposed to do? It has to be more than this.’ And I get this vision called P.A.R.K., and I took the vision, I wrote it down, and made a plan, came back to Little Rock and started talking about here’s what I want to do. This is some of my life work.”
Twenty-five years ago, Jackson put P.A.R.K. – Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids – in motion. The nonprofit organization based in southwest Little Rock provides after-school and summer programming to keep kids engaged in activities and off the streets. It also emphasizes homework and doing well in school.
Over the last quarter century, there have been 540 kids that have graduated from the program, but Jackson said the real legacy will stretch far beyond those numbers.
“Don’t look at the numbers – look at what the numbers are going to produce,” he said. “When a kid comes to P.A.R.K., they’re struggling academically, typically nobody in their family has been to college. They’ll be first-generation college students, but that becomes a pattern in their lives. So therefore that means their kids are going to go to college and their children’s children are going to go to college. I look past those numbers and start thinking about how big is this future going to be for not only the kids that we’re working with, but the great, great grandkids.”
Jackson, 55, has no plans to step aside anytime soon, but he is focused on the next 25 years – and beyond – for P.A.R.K. He said he and his board members have structured the organization for long-term success with an initial $10 million endowment (now $12 million) and continued relationships with individual and corporate contributors.
“The whole idea of tutoring and after school care and making sure kids are turning in their homework — that’s not hard to do. The finances were hard. So our board went out and raised a $10 million endowment, which is about $12 million now. We take about 4% of it and we give it to the budget every year and the rest we invest. So we do have a succession plan. There are people who’ve been working there for 20 years, but I think the finances were the hardest part and we took care of that. We know P.A.R.K. is going to be around for a long time,” he said.
You can watch the full interview with Jackson in the video below.