THE LIFE & DEATH OF JIMMY JACKSON
Looking for his piece of the pie
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories framing the life of James Roland Jackson, III, known as “Jimmy” to his family.
BY PENNY DICKERSON
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER
Gun violence in America has become a leading topic of political debate following the Dec. 14 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
The deadly massacre prompted President Barack Obama’s administration to craft proposals for the enactment of new laws, including background checks and bans on high-capacity ammunition clips.
Old news here
But gun violence is nothing new on the streets of Florida. And the victims of deadly gun violence are more likely to be Black, young and male, rather than first graders.
In Part I of this series, a crime database maintained by The Florida Times Union indicated that 71 homicides occurred by gun violence in 2012. Fifty-six of the 71 victims were African-Americans. Forty-six of the 56 African-American victims were Black males.
Jimmy Jackson was among them. He was shot four times at the Silver Fox Night Club and died 11 days later at Shands Hospital.
He will be forever mourned by a strong Black father who struggles to move forward; a mother who grieves for her younger son; siblings who lost their best friend; and a young daughter who will never accumulate more than a handful of memories of him.
More than a statistic
James Roland Jackson, III was known as “Jimmy” to his family. He boasted a broad smile and owned an infectious personality that left everyone he encountered with a positive impression.
He was well-mannered and grew into a good-looking young man with a six-feet, one-inch frame. He had enough athletic prowess to earn him football and basketball scholarships to Graceland University, a small, liberal arts school in Lamoni, Iowa.
There, he both roomed and participated in sports with his big brother, Anthony Rozier.
Jimmy came from good stock. Both parents earned bachelor’s degrees in business, from Morehouse College (father) and Florida A & M University (mother), respectively. Both were working professionals who nurtured and supported their children’s dreams.
The middle child of three, Jimmy adored his older brother Anthony. Younger sister Brandi knighted Jimmy as her hero. The three were inseparable.
By all accounts, Jimmy was just a normal young man living in America, paving his own path. He was multifaceted and comedic, ambitious and talented – but with an entrepreneur’s spirit.
After one year in Iowa, he grew restless with the town’s slow pace and left his brother behind. He transferred to FAMU to pursue a degree in business management at FAMU’s renowned School of Business and Industry in support of his first love: music.
As an undergraduate student in Tallahassee, he owned his own hip-hop clothing store, Tallahassee Hot Boys Apparel, and sold CD mixtapes.
Hustler, but no thug
While Jimmy’s relatively short journey from crib to casket seems tragically typical in Black America, it’s not.
He was a hustler without question. But stereotypes associated with the world of rap music and a young Black man’s death at a nightclub defy Jimmy’s life’s truth.
At the time of his death, he was gainfully employed by a Jacksonville AT&T call center and worked as road manager for artists signed to the “Nappy Boy” music label owned by Tallahassee native producer/singer/rapper “T-Pain.” Jimmy worked closely with “Young Cash,” one of Nappy Boy’s rap prodigies.
He shared an apartment with a steady girlfriend, Kiera Bailey, and doted over his five-year-old daughter Denia, whom he fathered during a college relationship with Shante C. (Her full name is not used at her request.)
Although Jimmy was not “running women,” he loved all of the women in his life – especially his mother, Stephanye Rozier-Jackson.
A mother mourns
Rozier-Jackson literally meditates on fond memories of her baby boy since his tragic murder in June 2012. She has near-perfect recall of everything from his first step to the last time she saw his face. The 27 years in between plague her.
“The weekend before the shooting, he was here in Orlando for Memorial Day. He visited with his grandmother who had surgery, attended a barbeque, and gave me a ride in his brand new white Camaro,” said Rozier-Jackson.
‘In a rush’
“At birth, Jimmy was in a rush to get here,” she remembered. “I didn’t know if we were going to make it to the hospital, but he entered this world with the most peaceful smile on his face.
“He loved being a baby and often pretended he couldn’t walk so I would carry him,” Rozier-Jackson chuckled. “It took 18 months for Jimmy to eat solid food; his favorite drink was Gatorade.”
After he eventually shelved his imaginary childhood friend he named “Johnny,” Jimmy yearned to hang with the “big boys” during church and followed in the footsteps of his older brother Anthony.
“Jimmy was lazy and slow to move. Anthony was mischievous and full of energy,” Rozier-Jackson said. “Anthony was the take-charge big brother and Jimmy had no other choice but to fall in line.”
As a boy, he revered his father, James Roland Jackson, Jr., known by the family as “Big Jimmy.”
All-male Morehouse College and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity instilled an ethical framework in the elder Jackson which he used to encourage Jimmy to avoid social stigmas and gravitate towards a more conventional presence: short-cropped hair cut, a clean shave, and tailored clothing with pants fitted to the waist. Belts for pants were a requirement.
A former corporate manager, the elder Jackson both hired and fired young men–many who were just like his son.
When Jackson speaks of his slain son now, reflective words fall fast and free. His pillar-of-strength guidance molded and shaped Jimmy, and the elder Jackson is not ashamed to admit that he was a stern father – but not a tyrant.
Jackson still resides near the Atlanta home he built for his blended family. He fought furiously to maintain it by working multiple jobs that ranged from banking, shoe and portrait sales to project management. He has endured hard work most of his life and only wanted the best for his son.
An ‘All-American’ son
Anger and regret often trump happy memories, but nothing can erase the abiding love passed from one Jimmy to the next.
“My All-American boy was born on July 2, 1985. It was close to the fourth of July and he had a strong heart rate,” said Jackson. “It was the most tremendous thing in the world. He looked like me, he talked like me, and we shared the same mannerisms. I couldn’t have been happier.”
Jackson and Stephanye Rozier had married a year earlier in 1984 and three-year-old Anthony, a child from Rozier’s previous relationship, helped form a welcome trio. Jackson treated his stepson as his own, but when young Jimmy was born, the new father struggled emotionally to treat both sons equally.
“I loved him so much, but felt inhibited,” said Jackson. “I couldn’t show him (Jimmy) love and didn’t know how to relate to having one son and then another. I also didn’t want Anthony to be jealous of Jimmy.”
The growing pains of being both a newlywed and a new parent created stressors in the marriage. But the elder Jackson still recalls fun-filled days of watching his precocious boys wrestle.
“They were two rough and tough young boys,” said Jackson. “They’d tumble in our two-story Norcross (Ga.) home so hard the roof would sometimes shake. I’d have to go up the stairs with a belt.”
The inquisitive young Jimmy was always big for his age and once won a contest in the first grade for being the biggest child.
“His feet were big, he had a great smile, and everybody liked him,” said Jackson.
Discipline and determination were characteristics Jackson eagerly imparted to prepare all of his children for a better-than-average chance to succeed.
In 1990, the couple welcomed the birth of daughter Brandi. But post-partum depression and career changes seemed to cause constant turmoil.
In 1991, the siblings and their mother moved back to Orlando. Following the loss of their home, the four returned and the entire family lived in an Atlanta-area apartment for a short period. Over time, the relationship was irreconcilably broken.
A 1981 love affair that began in Tallahassee ended in Atlanta in 1994; all three siblings and their mother returned to Orlando.
The formative years
The untimely divorce of his parents served as an indelible marker, and Jimmy’s formative years were painfully divided between two households – his father’s home in Atlanta and an eventual return to Orlando to live with his more lenient mother.
Jimmy was eight years old when he returned to Atlanta to live with his father.
“I was presented the perfect opportunity to do everything I wanted to with Jimmy,” said Jackson. “When he came to live with me, we traveled all across the country to football games and other stuff. He adjusted to attending a new school and making friends.”
In the sixth grade, Jimmy made the basketball team as a point guard and continued playing through his tenure at Atlanta’s Evans High School.
“My son loved basketball and Allen Iverson, but he didn’t have Iverson talent,” said Jackson.“ He was a physical specimen. I wanted him to be a football punter because he had huge legs, but he wanted basketball,” Jackson remembers.
Young Jimmy’s love for shooting hoops also came with a desire to emulate his NBA idols. He began to explore urban fashion fads. Conflict between father and son ensued.
“Jimmy wanted to grow braids, and I was just vehemently against that,” Jackson added. “His school life was central to me. I always visited their schools and was proud about how he was received as a student and a good kid. I didn’t want his image to be tarnished because I know how the world views Black men.”
Jackson enjoyed watching his son learn to drive, and typical father-son time.
“Jimmy did great impressions of characters from the animated show ‘South Park.’ I loved that,” Jackson laughed. “He also loved to scare other people and pull pranks, but he was the scariest one of all.”
Time to leave
Family, religion, and tradition were all integral to Jackson in his youth in Georgia and in Florida. He was nurtured by an extended family that included relatives with music performance careers, mentoring uncles and godsisters. And though Jimmy liked Atlanta, he longed to be with his mother and siblings in Orlando.
“I really had no answer for that void, because he could move around unchecked with them and away from me,” Jackson stated. “That was more important to him than anything. He could grow his braids and be free to do as he pleased, and that was OK. He stopped being ‘my Lil ‘Jimmy’ and was gone.”
When he turned 16, Jimmy left his father’s close supervision and returned to Orlando.
It was a painful exit, especially since Jimmy was murdered before he could fully reconcile his relationship with his father.
As he got older, Jimmy defied his father’s conventions with his own sense of style including multiple tattoos, shoulder-length dreadlocks, clothing that gave him pop culture swag and an individuality he turned into an enterprising venture called “Exclusively J.”
Jimmy’s business goal: to manage artists’ careers and to “brand” himself as has Puff Daddy/P.Diddy.
The two spent Christmas together in 2005 and the elder Jackson made a few visits to Tallahassee when his son attended FAMU. Their personal contact during Jimmy’s early twenties was so minimal that the elder Jackson didn’t even know he was a grandfather.
Jackson met his granddaughter Denia for the first time at his son’s funeral.
Still, by all accounts, the younger Jackson was a family success story. His kinfolk were starstruck when their beloved Jimmy invited them backstage during a concert to meet R&B star Chris Brown.
A final conversation
Jimmy’s parents remain proud of the impact their son had on the world in the short 26 years of his life, from his first baby step to his final breath. They each long for one more chance to communicate their love.
“During his last days on this earth, I saw my son more than ever because he was often traveling to Tampa and Miami promoting artists,” offered Rozier-Jackson.
“If I were given an opportunity to have a final conversation with my son, I would hold his hand, let him know that I love him, I’m proud of him, that I would lay down my life for him, and reassure him that God loves him,” she added.
A heavy load
James Jackson’s grief weighs heavily on him. His love for his son was often difficult for him to fully express. Even in retrospect, he remains direct and brief.
“I would tell him how much I wish he could have been with me every day, like during the middle school years,” mused the elder Jackson.
“I am committed to achieving justice for Jimmy, but not nearly as committed as I would like to be. It is absolutely a daily process to keep things moving.”
The death of Jimmy Jackson remains unsolved. Homicide detectives suspect the motive was armed robbery, but few leads have surfaced. To date, the case is cold.
Part 3: Jimmy’s family endures an 11-day bedside vigil at Shands Hospital and a subsequent funeral and burial without financial support.