Timar Jackson pays kindness forward
Young Jamaican says positive role models critical to shaping future for youth
Timar Jackson grew up in Bull Bay, St Andrew, and recalls that as a teenager he and his family once fled the community as the vicious cycle of gun violence raged and took with it several of his innocent young peers. But the super-private, high-...
Timar Jackson grew up in Bull Bay, St Andrew, and recalls that as a teenager he and his family once fled the community as the vicious cycle of gun violence raged and took with it several of his innocent young peers.
But the super-private, high-achieving, brilliant young mind continues to debunk the stereotyping of such communities whose residents are often painted as irredeemable.
Were it not for positive mentors and role models who provided game-changing influence at critical junctures to this young man, he could have become a victim, but certainly not a perpetrator, he says.
His mentors’ willingness to offer guidance, advice, and a chance allowed Jackson to aspire to what was good, clean and wholesome. All he had to do was show discipline and focus for potential, which he already had, and a burning determination to be the best.
He is almost there, but his eyes reflect a burning desire for even more. Now in his early 30s, Jackson is the capital markets manager of one of the country’s largest commercial banks.
As he sat down to speak with The Sunday Gleaner, he was a little nervous, as he was hours away from receiving his latest examination results.
It came Thursday that Jackson, the 2014 Jamaican Rhodes Scholar, successfully hurdled the last obstacle to becoming a certified financial analyst (CFA) – the globally recognised designation given by the CFA Institute, which measures the integrity and competence of the best financial minds. Candidates must successfully complete three levels of exams covering areas such as accounting, economics, ethics, money management, and security analysis.
Jackson was relieved.
Those who knew him from Vauxhall and Ardenne high schools and The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, where he received his undergraduate degree in actuarial science with first class honours in 2012, expected nothing less.
He salutes and credits his mother Janet Powell, who he was proud to “give the best returns on her investment”.
PAYING KINDNESS FORWARD
“I always kept in touch with Vauxhall. In 2013, I got the news that students did not perform so well in the CSEC mathematics. I thought to myself, ‘Here I am. I went through the same system there and here I am in what I considered my dream job’. I thought that I have so much to offer so how can I help the school,” Jackson recalled, referencing the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exam.
He pulled together some UWI friends and, along with past students of the school, designed a programme for the Vineyard Town-based school, which receives students at the lower tier of the primary school leaving examinations.
“‘Countdown’ was the result, with focus on helping students studying mathematics. The concept was that it was a countdown to the days students would sit the examination, but also counting down to the grades they were expecting the students to get, from grade five through to grade one. We started at grade five, and counted backwards to grade one,” he said.
The initiative evolved into “a once every third Saturday mathematics marathon, beginning at 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., which targeted 75 students and all they were required to do was show up to the class,” Jackson said.
Lunch and all work materials were provided, as the students were already financially disadvantaged and he knew many would be absent without assistance.
“We reaped some serious success that year. We were able to move the numbers passing, from 13 students the previous year, to 55 in 2013, with most students getting a grade two. It was tremendous and it had an impact. The students were so eager. We went there not only teaching mathematics, but we told our stories. We engaged them so they could see through our lens,” said Jackson.
MENTORING THE VULNERABLE
Jackson and his friends sold the art of the possible to the students, many already facing the hard, cold glare of society’s eyes reflecting the impossible. The intended effect was not only for the students to see themselves in a better light but also for others to see their potential.
The programme achieved the intended effect.
“We did not go there to teach them. The teachers already had their jobs. We went there to mentor these kids. What we can do for them is to make them see that if it was possible for me and my friends, it was also possible for them. We spoke in their language; it was also a language we knew,” Jackson said.
Now a member of Global Shapers, an arm of an international community which is a sub-group of the World Economic Forum, Jackson and young people in cities all over the world set out to see how best they can make a positive impact on the community around them. The Kingston hub of the programme started a male mentorship initiative called Males Engaged in Necessary (MEN) discussions targeting youngsters aged 14-16 years.
“I have benefited significantly from mentorship. We offer positive role model guidance to them, and these individuals share their life stories, showing them how they, too, encountered struggles but endured to become successful in their own rights,” he said.
Jackson recalled in his earlier years seeing young persons receiving the Prime Minister’s Youth Award and vowed to become a recipient. He did. The achievement was not only for him, but a door to the role model he wanted to become for others.
Success came on his second attempt for the Rhodes Scholarship, but he imagined long before “what the front page picture of The Gleaner would be like the next day, and what it would do for the students I am trying to mentor at Vauxhall”.
Raised by his mother, along with four other siblings, a telephone call from his father about two weeks after he became the 2014 Rhodes Scholar allowed him to made peace with the man who was an absentee father. In the call, his father expressed pride at his success and he said “thanks”, which dissipated much of the anger he carried towards the senior Jackson.
That would be the last telephone call he would receive, as his father died about three weeks later.
“It made me understand some things, too. How could he really manage to be what I thought he should, given his constraints? But I was at peace,” he said.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, young Jackson, who was just getting his ears wet in the working world, went off to Oxford University in England that same year to begin two years of graduate studies. He successfully completed two graduate degrees, but it was the first time he felt like he was in the wrong place.
“In Jamaica, we always call people bright. But there is another tier to brightness which they call clever. Here I was, being one of these bright people, but it was a difficult adjustment. I was not used to it being pitch dark at 4:00 in the afternoon. I wasn’t used to the skies being overcast for months. Certain habits and routines I had in Jamaica, I didn’t find either the place or space for it. To be honest, in my first year, I felt like things weren’t going well. And I believed it affected my academics,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.
A coming together of all the clever people in a session at Oxford made Jackson realise that all the other clever persons spoke of challenges, so he was not alone. He went on to complete two graduate degrees – a master’s in applied statistics and another in business administration – some people’s dream achievement, but a slight step down from his initial plans of a PhD in Mathematics and Computational Finance.
The door is still open.
DEBILITATING IMPACT OF CRIME
Immediately on returning to Jamaica, Jackson’s employment stocks rose even further and he became a manager at the National Commercial Bank (NCB) Capital Markets.
“I don’t regret coming back to Jamaica; I love my country. I don’t think there is anywhere else like home, but we all can acknowledge that the crime situation is a challenge. You worry about not only yourself but friends and family. That is a big part of why I am so big on mentorship and mentoring young males. When we look at the statistics, they are the ones committing the crime and the victims also. They are also incarcerated,” he stated.
“It’s a complex problem. There are so many dimensions to this problems, and will require each and everyone playing a part and it must include engagement of the at-risk persons. If we don’t do that, what we will see and what is happening now is that we all become numb to it, and that’s another danger.”
The young man added, “But if you can be exposed to another way of life, a view that is compelling enough for them to aspire towards, then I believe it will make a difference. This is not theory. It is my experience, but I had positive role models, and it made a difference. I was engaged at critical points in my life that showed me alternatives. Wholesome engagement was a critical part of the solution and it cannot be something for publicity but serious intent.
“If you successfully engaged one, you will have a multiplier effect. I was engaged at so many levels. People wanted to know who I was after my exams success at Vauxhall. Persons reached out to me, and became mentors. I could reach them to talk about life questions. It made such a difference,” Jackson said.
Jackson said opportunities are available for the qualified and creative, with great potential for young people to fulfil personal and financial goals, but he cautioned those who were more interested in hype more than substance.
Access to international markets is available through technology, he said, and there are currently many young people prospering through serious discipline and application. He said greater access to information has revolutionised the work environment and provided many opportunities, and several of his peers were making the best use possible.
He said many were creating employment instead of seeking employment.
Jackson is already living his dream of working in Jamaica’s financial sector, contributing through research and policymaking to its national development; while at the same time mentoring at-risk youth to help them realise their dreams, too.
Always eager to take on the world, he is also ready to expand his personal and career goals.
Thursday’s CFA examination results prove he is ready for much more.
Timar Jackson’s humble beginning to high achievement while paying it forward is celebrated in Black History Month.