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Beagles and Basketball: Inside the Mind of a 12-Year-Old Founder

Portrait of 12 year old Founder Jahkil Jackson. Surrounding Jahkil are drawings of things that inspire him, activities, and items that he distributes to help the homeless.

In our Homework series, we explore the lives of ordinary kids with not-so-ordinary hobbies. Between school work and swimming lessons, these youngsters are also running successful businesses—(sometimes) with a bit of grown-up help. 

While other 5-year-olds were learning basic life skills, Jahkil Jackson was already developing a strong sense of empathy and compassion. It was at that age that he recognized his need to help others. With the support of his family and donations, the now 12-year-old runs Project I Am—an organization that provides the necessities of life to homeless communities in his native Chicago and beyond. Oh, and no big deal: he also runs an apparel business, speaks at events across the country, and tap dances on the side. 

But don’t be fooled—Jahkil is just a regular kid who worries about his science marks and loves video games and basketball. One day, he even hopes to own an NBA team. And since he’s already on a first-name basis with LeBron James, anything’s possible. Here, Jahkil shares some advice on public speaking, why he loves running a business, and the story of that one time he met President Obama.

About Me

Illustration of a young black boy and a young white girl speaking into a microphone. The microphone head is depicted as a fingerprint to suggest they are introducing themselves.

Name: Jahkil Jackson

Age: 12

My business: Project I Am

Where I live: Chicago, Illinois, USA

My best quality is:

Caring about people. 

What I do for fun:

I’m a tap dancer, I’m an actor, I’m a model. And I play basketball every day. I’m on three different teams. 

Something I love is: 

Dogs. I have a Beagle named JJ. It’s kind of weird because my initials are JJ, and his name is JJ. My dog was actually born before me, so he’s older than me. He had a couple years of time to himself. Then I came and stole his attention.

What I’m reading:

While I was in Oklahoma, I actually picked up this book called Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District, and it was about Black Wall Street in the early 1900s. Like in the ’20s. 

Illustration of a young boy with blonde hair skate boarding, but the skateboard is a pencil with wheels to convey the idea of getting started in business.

A little bit about my business and how I got started:

The idea came from when I went to go visit the homeless with my aunt and my cousins. I was only 5. It really made me sad just seeing them out there on the streets with rats all over the place. I went home and asked my parents if I can give them all houses, but we obviously couldn’t do that. So they helped me think of a different thing that we can do.

We thought of specific things that we have that the homeless don’ have. And we came up with Blessing Bags. Inside are toiletry items like soap, tissue, and socks—things that can help on a daily basis. We go to the shelters and pass them out on the streets. Also, I have a clothing line, Trophies. A portion of the proceeds goes to help fund Project I Am. So everything is working together. 

What it felt like to start my business:

I wasn’t really scared. I actually had a lot of support, and I was all pumped to do it. I was like this super happy, energetic kid. Mom will probably disagree. I don’t know.

The people who help me with my business are:

My family and my friends and volunteers. They pass out Blessing Bags or do the assembly lines to put the bags together. Also, people donate money and do school drives.

How I stay organized:

My parents manage my schedule. And I have a huge calendar in my room.

The best part of running my business is:

Getting to meet new people. I’m a kid and an entrepreneur of my own business, and then seeing other youth that also have businesses is just my favorite part.

The hardest part of running my business is:

Getting donations. That’s probably the hardest thing right now. 

I’m good at:

Public speaking. Last week, I was in Tulsa for an event. And I was the keynote speaker. I spoke three times. But I got paid for it. Usually the money goes to pay for school, or some of it goes to my clothing line, or to Project I Am. 

My best speaking opportunity:

The coolest one was at WE Day, which was in Chicago, and it was in front of 15,000 people. And my mom was nervous, but I was doing good.

My public speaking advice for other people is: 

Just get your word out. And don’t be worried about what people say because you’re there to speak to them and encourage them. That’s happened to me many times—I thought the crowd was going to be dead and not interactive, but then it turns out that they were really excited.

Illustration of a young black boy with a green sweatshirt and red baseball cap, blowing bubbles out of a wand. The bubbles are forming shapes that represent his business but also his hobbies and future goals.When I grow up, I want to be:

A professional basketball player in the NBA. But I also want my own NBA team.

Something I’m really proud of is:

LeBron invited me to be a part of his [#AlwaysBelieve] campaign. 

A cool thing that happened to me was: 

My mom woke me up one morning to tell me that President Obama was tweeting about me, and I was like, “Am I going to have lunch with him? What’s going to happen?” As the day went on, a lot of people kept congratulating me, and that’s when I got more excited. But the day that I met him, it was a surprise. 

We got invited to a reception for people who are doing good in the community. There were no chairs, no food, and I was like, “What type of reception is this?” There was nothing but standing around. My legs were getting so tired, even though I am young. But then a man came out and said, “President Obama’s going to come in now,” and then everybody got excited. I got the most excited, and I said I wanted to be first in line. And I was first in line. And Obama said, “I remember this guy.” So it was pretty cool that he knows my name. That’s a big honor.

Illustrations by João Fazenda
Photography by Andi Harman