This time of year is a very special one for me and for my family.
But as much as it is a time to be thankful for the things that we have like our families, it’s also important to think about the things that we can give and how we can impact the lives of others.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, so on Monday night I rented out a banquet hall here in St. Louis and invited a group of homeless young men for an intimate, private motivational dinner.
The idea actually came from some thinking I’ve been doing about my two sons. I always try to set a great example for them and I realize that not everyone has that in their life. I was fortunate to have it in my dad and I provide that same example to my children.
But for some of those who don’t have that great example, I want to be the person to fill that void. I set out to motivate these young men and let them know that anything is possible. Sometimes things don’t go exactly the way we planned them to but, as dim as things may look, as long as we have a positive outlook, things are still achievable. I wanted them to have someone to look up to that’s setting a great example of that.
So we had 20 young men, ranging in age from about 16 to 21 years old, out to this hall for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. For our meal we had turkey, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, green beans, carrots and various different loaves of bread. Then for dessert we had pumpkin pie, pecan pie, cake and ice cream.
I sat and had dinner with them and talked to them about being motivated and being successful in life. I urged them to seek education and to seek their dreams, to be better men. I also told them that once they achieved those dreams they have, to always take care of the community and look after the next generation. But I didn’t want them to feel like they couldn’t talk to me or that I was giving them some kind of speech, so the one thing I did was make it an open Q & A session.
I listened to their questions and answered them openly and 100 percent honestly. I also asked them questions to spark discussion. We talked about an array of things from what it’s like to play in the National Football League and the places I’ve been in the world to dating and some of my hobbies.
I told them about some of the books I’ve read about leadership and things that I learned from them. I asked about the things they’re going through in life, their relationships and how they try to avoid gang affiliation, things like that that are affecting their situations at this time. I wanted them to know that I was just as interested in them as they were in me and I wanted to come from the heart, to let all of them know that I care about them and their place in the community.
If anybody understands some of the struggles we have to deal with in difficult situations and how to overcome them, I believe I do. I don’t have all the answers, but I believe I can lead them in the right direction to find those answers and motivate them to keep going, even when things are not going the way they might want.
At the end of the night, I presented each of them with a new backpack and a personal journal. I told them that I wanted them to write down in their journal the things they would like to achieve, their dreams and aspirations, and what they need to do to reach them. I feel that anything you set out to do, you can make it come to pass in your life.
From the looks on their faces as they took it all in, from the dinner to the gifts, I could tell that they were all genuinely appreciative. Seeing those smiles on their faces just made me want to do even more for them.
I hope they left the dinner with an understanding that they are not forgotten and that they are each important. Knowing that somebody in the community cares about them, I hope, can have a profound effect on their lives. I hope it ignited something in them if maybe they didn’t realize someone cared. The last thing anyone should feel is that no one cares about them. So I let them know that I do. I care about their health, their interests and their future. I plan to stay in touch with each of them and check in to make sure they stay on the right path.
I think the night went really well and I want to start doing something like it at least once a year. I appreciate all the support I got about it on my Twitter and Facebook pages and I know a lot of you wanted to know how you can help. This was something I did on my own and put together over the last few weeks, but now that I’ve seen how appreciative these young men are over just the little things, it makes me want to look into how I can help out more in that area. If I can use my influence in the community and do something to make them better men, then I know I’m doing something right.
I think it’s something we can grow as a community and I will let everyone know how they can help in the future once we start putting together some solid plans for another event. I hope we can make it even bigger and better to have even more impact on the community and those young adults.
A SPECIAL DAY
I get one more Thanksgiving meal on Thursday and I’m excited to share the day with my family again this year.
We always get together as a group on Thanksgiving to reflect on the blessings of the year and how far we have come over the years. This year will be no different. We’ll be having dinner in St. Louis since we have a game here this week with the Arizona Cardinals.
The immediate family that gets together is my mom and dad, myself, my two sisters and then the 10 grandchildren. We’re already a close-knit family, but this is a day that we get even closer. This year there will be at least 15 people at the table and I’m pretty sure some of my teammates will come over too. When people find out that my mom is town cooking, we always have extras.
My mom is dedicated to the meal and she starts cooking things a day ahead of time. Then on Thanksgiving Day she wakes up at about 5 a.m. to start the turkey and finish up everything else. I’m the type of guy that, on that day, I try to stay away from the kitchen and out of the way.
I’ve never tried to cook a Thanksgiving dinner because I’m sure I would be the person who either overcooks the turkey or undercooks the turkey. Either way I’m sure it wouldn’t turn out great. I’ll be in the man cave watching football all day. My family takes care of the cooking and there’s everything you can think of on the table. On my plate I’ll always have a couple slices of turkey, a slice of ham, homemade dressing and some greens.
Then for dessert, the one big Jackson family tradition is that my mom has to make chocolate pie. It’s a recipe that my grandmother used when my mom was a child and my mom is the only one in the family that has the recipe and knows how to make it like my grandmother did from scratch.
We always beg her to make those chocolate pies and she does. It’s so good that, around this time every year, we get phone calls from other family members asking my mom to make chocolate pies for them too. There’s nothing like that chocolate pie, but we also have sweet potato pie and red velvet cake.
The food is great and the time with family is even better, but most of all Thanksgiving is a day to stop and realize that we should never take for granted that which we are blessed with. I personally try to always focus on the things that I have been blessed with and not the things that I don’t have. Although I work in a profession that is defined by wins and losses, I never forget the simple things in life that I feel blessed to have. I wake up every day and have the chance to leave a positive impact on those around me. That’s something I’m truly thankful for.