BRONZEVILLE — A 28-year-old CEO of his own law firm is starting a foundation to help local youths learn the law.
Jamal E. Jackson, the head of Jackson Corporate Law Offices at 111 W. Jackson Blvd., celebrated his fourth year in Chicago last month. The Bronzeville resident's firm will hit its three-year anniversary in August, when Jackson will also launch his foundation, the Excel Project.
Through the foundation, children and teens from underserved communities will get introduced to the legal field. They’ll be placed in summer internships with law firms and legal departments in Chicago. Jackson said he’s also trying to work with some local law schools to have students attend classes.
“I just want to give them hope,” he said. “I don’t want there to be kids who don’t meet a black attorney until the age of 20. I want them to be exposed to it at a very young age. I want them to feel like it’s commonplace to have black attorneys around. We want to help build dreams. We want to help create a pipeline of diverse attorneys that will be able to go out and help their communities.”
Jackson didn’t meet his first attorney until college.
The Louisiana native's interest in law began as a child and was first sparked from watching law television dramas like “Law and Order” and “Matlock” with his mother, Sharon Brown.
She had aspired to become a lawyer, but never had the chance, Jackson said. His mother died from a sudden blood clot in July 2009, the summer before Jackson was supposed to begin law school at Creighton University.
“It was the most traumatizing experience of my life, so when it came time for me to decide if I was still going to law school, it was a decision that I had to think about for a long time,” he said.
Jackson said he was very close with Brown, whom he described as “strong, humble, giving and the most courageous person” he has ever met.
His parents divorced when he was 5 so he watched his mother work two and sometimes three jobs to keep money coming into the house. She put herself through college while working as a host and server, then later in an HR/student resources department at a local university. She was a year away from her getting her doctorate in organizational behavior when she died. She already had a bachelor’s degree in human resources and sociology and a master's degree in sociology.
“We grew up very, very poor,” Jackson said. “She was a strong woman, and the fight that I saw in her is really the result of who I am today. She worked to get us out of poverty so I had to do a lot of the raising of my sisters and taking care of the house.”
The responsibility brought the two close and they formed what Jackson called a “partnership.”
“My mom was like my best friend,” he said.
He chose business law because he wanted to help foster economic development within underserved communities. His ultimate goal is to replicate what he’s doing in Chicago in other cities.
“What I do is help create businesses, which helps create jobs, which helps create economic development,” he said.
Values and life lessons his mother instilled in him are used every day.
“She used to always tell me that a closed mouth doesn’t get fed,” Jackson said. “What I’m doing today in business, it’s something that I use often. Be direct. If you need something, perfect your ask and go after it. So that’s one of the lessons that she taught me that I carry to this day.”
Another thing he learned is to be disciplined, he said. He began to practice that in college, which meant he couldn’t always do what his friends were doing.
“I knew I had to stay focused, and my mom’s saying resonated,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he will never be content with where he is, which is why he works so hard.
Brown's "life taught me about legacy,” he said. “It taught me about building a legacy, building something that will outlast you, building a story that’s bigger than yourself. So that’s what I’m doing right now.”
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