Guarding the Legacy: Jim Jackson

Humble Beginnings

Twenty-six years ago in Toledo, Ohio, a young man’s dream of playing college basketball was in sight. Georgetown, North Carolina, Syracuse and Michigan were schools that were fixated on his mind, but little did that young man know that the school he would ultimately choose – The Ohio State University – would be connected to him forever in more ways than one.

Jim Jackson was a standout basketball player for The Ohio State University from 1989 to 1992. This former guard/forward’s hard work scored him honors such as being a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, All American Honors Player, and National Player of the Year. But while Jackson was winning games at St. John’s Arena, a building not far away on 12th Avenue would catch his eye and later win his heart.

In 1989, the Black Cultural Center that Dr. Frank Hale and others fought for was dedicated and named in his honor: The Frank W. Hale, Jr. Black Cultural Center. This building not only served students for educational purposes, but it was a recreational spot, a “home away from home.” This is what attracted Jackson to the Hale Center. “We knew it was a place where we could go in and play spades. It was geared towards the interaction of African American students. It was also a spot for athletes and a place you could go in between classes,” Jackson recalls. Whether it was watching “The Young and the Restless” at 12:30 p.m. or just socializing with his friends, Jackson often found himself at the Hale Center.

The People

While attending college, it is important for students to find those influential people who can guide them throughout their collegiate experience and beyond. For Jackson, Larry Williamson and Lee Smith were those guiding lights. Williamson, director of the Hale Center, and Smith, assistant to the director, emphasized to Jackson that he was “not there to just be an athlete” and stressed the importance of African American students getting their education.

Smith, who was like a mother-figure, remembers her first recollection of Jackson. “He was not puffed up even though he was a star athlete, and he was so down to earth with all the students. He loved to come hang out and study at the Center. I remember him asking me for 10 cents to get a soda, and I told him to remember us when he became famous. I didn’t know that this phrase would stick with him until I was notified that he wanted to donate to the Hale Center.” To Lee’s surprise, she left a notable impact on Jackson. “I didn’t know that I was an inspiration to him; we just wanted all students to feel like they were at home at the Center.”

Williamson said, “Jim would often bring other athletes to the Hale Center – both basketball and football – and it was during this time that we saw the greatest emergence of athletes interacting with students in our building. Jim was very conscious of his culture and heritage. We saw tremendous growth in the number of people coming to our center and most of that was due to Jim Jackson’s presence. I was most impressed with Jim’s willingness and the giving of his time as he would often talk to young people and sign autographs by the dozens.”

Game Changer

In March of 1995, Jackson established The Jim Jackson Endowed Fund for the Benefit of the Frank W. Hale, Jr. Black Cultural Center, which supports Hale Center programming and the African American Farewell Celebration, a convocation for African American students. His unwavering support did not stop there. After playing 14 seasons in the NBA, Jackson could now commit his time to establishing even closer ties with the center. Whether it was donating money or speaking at university engagements, Jackson became a sponsor of the Hale Center and what it stands for: unity.

Basketball, however, is still near and dear to Jackson's heart. He stays involved with the sport through his son, Traevon Jackson, who played guard for the Wisconsin Badgers, and Jackson currently serves as a color and in-studio analyst for the Big Ten Network as well as an in-studio analyst for the NBA with Fox Sports 1. But despite his busy schedule, he has not forgotten about the Hale Center and has taken on a position to expand the center to new heights. Jackson was recently appointed as the chairperson of the Hale Center Expansion Committee, a group that is responsible for guiding the project by advising on building and design plans, connecting with key stakeholders and participating in fundraising activities. “I have a personal relationship with the Hale Center. For them to trust in me to be able to head this up is a prestigious honor that I take with pride,” states Jackson.

Even though this project is perhaps the most ambitious, this is not the first time that the Hale Center has been through significant changes. After its 24-year residence at what was originally called Bradford Commons, the center moved across the street in 2013 to the former Enarson Hall (the first Ohio Union) for more space. Now with the idea for a modern “state-of-the-art” center, Jackson’s leadership for this project could not come at a better time.

As a managing director for Schiff Capitol, a real estate development, Jackson already has knowledge on how to make the new center more architecturally efficient. “We need space for programming – events, music, teaching, seminars – that will exceed the amount of space this building currently has. There are so many more things we can do.”

Dr. Hale finished his chapter of groundbreaking and historic achievements such as forming the Minority (Morrill) Scholars Program and pushing for the creation of a Black Cultural Center, which was later named in his behalf. Now it is time for Jackson and many others to begin the second chapter. While Jackson has his work cut out for him, he has confidence that an expanded Hale Center will come into existence through two of Dr. Hale’s beliefs that had always served him well: hard work and dedication.

Written by Whitley N. Hawkins, Advancement Intern