Worth Fighting For
Marlin Jackson’s Fight For Life Foundation is making a strong impact in the lives of youth
Writer / Kara Kavensky
Photographer / Jamie Sangar
Marlin Jackson grew up in the projects in Sharon, Pennsylvania to a mom who had addiction issues. Jackson did not grow up with a nurturing parent. He did not have positive social or emotional role models. He was not presented with a solid example of how to love himself or other people, but he persevered.
“As a youth, I had a lot of grace,” Jackson says. “I could have followed down the wrong path but was able to escape altercation with law enforcement. Your foundation is so important to the fabric of who you become, seeds are planted, with a different environment, that goes with you.”
At the University of Michigan, Jackson was an All-American as a freshman and as a sophomore. Jackson was postured to enter the NFL after his junior year. His football career came into jeopardy when he had been engaged in an altercation. Jackson was not the instigator of the situation, but had been arrested nonetheless. Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr told him that if he was found guilty, he would be off the team. For the first time, Jackson realized that this could all be gone. The feeling was devastating.
The guy who had started the altercation later sued Jackson after graduation, Jackson countersued and won. He didn’t collect any money from the lawsuit, he simply wanted his name cleared.
While Jackson was at the University of Michigan, his psychology class volunteered in inner city Detroit schools. As Jackson listened to the stories of the students. He could relate, for he had lived their life. When Jackson shared that he had the same experiences, the kids didn’t believe him.
“You’re lying, you’re Marlin Jackson, All-American,” said one of the students.
Jackson had opened their eyes to possibilities and these kids had opened his. The kids could dare to dream, and so could Jackson. It was in this inner-city school that Jackson knew he would start a program to help kids like these, kids like him. The Fight for Life Foundation is the program that Jackson needed when he was young.
When Jackson was drafted by the Colts, he listened to Coach Tony Dungy speak of faith, family and football, Jackson was surprised. It was the first time he heard a coach mention faith and family sequentially before football.
“The positivity that Dungy and Bill Polian spoke of was something that I’d never heard before,” Jackson says. “They emphasized our role as a man in the community, our faith and our relationship with God. I was hungry for something that I didn’t know that I was starving for.”
In his second year in the NFL, Jackson created The Fight for Life Foundation. As his football career was winding down due to injuries a few years later, he poured his passion into Fight for Life. Jackson made a commitment to himself and God and moved forward on his social entrepreneurial path.
“Fight for Life focuses upon social and emotional learning,” says Lisa Mitchell, Director of Programming for Fight for Life. “It provides kids with a common language to express core concepts of accountability, integrity, self -worth and honesty. It also emphasizes the concept of volunteerism and being good citizens in their family, school and community. For many of these kids, these are concepts that they are not being exposed to at home.”
Implementation happens in the classroom with a comprehensive curriculum that is age appropriate. The programming may be implemented from Pre-K to 8th grade and is currently in six schools. A plan is in place to roll it statewide in the next year, with the ultimate goal of nationwide impact.
The first pilot for the program was adopted by Jackson’s alma mater,
Musser Elementary. Early adopters in Indianapolis include Pike Township, Phalen Leadership Academy and IPS.
“Fight for Life provides teachers with a program that allows students to feel seen, heard and valued every day,” Mitchell says.
“In today’s society, we must create treatment programs for the opioid surge, but more importantly: prevention,” adds State Senator Jim Merritt. “Marlin’s Fight for Life program is exactly what we are in need of because prevention is a much-needed part of the solution. With prevention programs like Fight for Life, we all benefit.”
For each $1 dollar spent on Social Emotional Learning programs, the return is $11 in total economic benefit to society. The real benefits in the lives of the children are immeasurable.
For more information, visit: fightforlifefoundation.org.