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Dare to dream: How Fort Worth woman brings hope to ‘communities of underprivileged’

In World
April 05, 2024

Edna Jackson’s aunt would be proud of her niece. A teacher, she and Edna often had intimate conversations, which, it turns out Edna took to heart.

“After preparing her coffee I would take it to her. As I delivered it she would say, ‘You have so much pizzazz!,’” Jackson recalled. “Just hearing those words made me feel extra special and meant so much to me.

“She spoke into my life and helped me keep dreaming.”

Now, Jackson is passing that pizzazz along to youngsters herself through her nonprofit organization Edna’s Creative Learning Center, home of the Freedom Learning Institute. Remembering her aunt, she is helping bridge the gap between growing up in an impoverished situation and getting an education that can change a youngster’s life.

Jackson creates educational programs tailored to the individual needs of participants. They can do the lessons at home or at the center at 5632 Donnelly Ave.

“Opportunity awaits anyone who will take it. I dare you to dream,” she posts in her bio on the website.

And if they accept her dare, she will help them reach a better place in life. In all, she’s helped over 400 youth since starting her program eight years ago.

‘Poverty was so real’

Jackson, a Fort Worth resident for the vast majority of her life, has a passion for helping youngsters from underprivileged backgrounds get an education. She recalled experiencing such a challenge herself when she was a youngster.

“As a young girl I dreamt of being beautiful and successful. Poverty was so real to me and so stressful,” she said.

Recognizing the need for assistance in areas such as the Como neighborhood of Fort Worth, where she grew up and attended school, she placed her center there on Donnelly Avenue. Of course, help is available to young people from all over.

“I identified a need, then I remembered the assistance I received while growing up,” she said. “We had the city of Fort Worth, community services, Circle T-Girl Scouts, UpWard Bound TCU, churches and many other personal neighbors. All these entities stepped in to support those like me that were disadvantaged and needed a pathway to access a better life.”

And now she works with a variety of organizations herself to help youths find the joy she has in education.

Long before starting her nonprofit, Jackson had worked for the city of Fort Worth and the Fort Worth school district as an independent contractor. She serviced children in the arenas of fine arts, education tutorials, preparation for adult living skills, as well as collaborating with community-based nonprofit organizations and ministries.

Mostly that is what she is doing now. Edna’s Creative Learning Center was born out of a passion for creative arts as well as creative learning, through community-based programming, she said.

“I identified a great level of hopelessness within the community, and I knew if these barriers were removed more youth could succeed with support,” she said. “Over the years I have worked to provide underprivileged youth and adults with the instruction and opportunities to access a brighter future and the motivation to attain the goals they have identified for their lives.”

This access is gained by providing programs such as arts and education, high school diplomas, STEM (Lego technology), aerobics, creative dance, sports, modeling and charm classes.

Longtime friend Gina McGee Saenz of Fort Worth said helping youth is what Jackson was made for.

“We met when she was homeschooling her kids, and she was in my homeschool group. She and her sister had a location in Como that they used to provide after-school care and summer camps to the youth in their community, and my group would volunteer there sometimes,” Saenz recalled. “She always has a heart for children. Her mission, since I have known her, is to go directly into the communities of the underprivileged and give them hope, hope not just that they can rise above their circumstances but that someone truly cares about them.”

Starts with children

Jackson has worked with students from birth to young adulthood, but her focus has been mostly on ages 5 through 12.

“I consider these to be the most impressive years of one’s life,” she said.

Among the many ways she helps is assisting young people with getting into college. But before that, she brings out their creativity and self-confidence in a variety of ways.

For example, she noted that students who attended a STEM camp “echoed how much they enjoyed the art of building with LEGOs, using their creativity.”

Another testimony was from the Inner Princess Program, no doubt stemming from her own wishes as a child. Girls participate in charm and modeling activities, gaining social and emotional lessons through which they build self-confidence and communication skills.

“Poverty and a lack of resources seems to keep many children from dreaming, and I believe creativity through the arts allows one to dream by affirming them,” she said.

“As I reflect on my relationship with Miss Edna, I think about how she has inspired me to follow my dreams and pursue a career I love,” former Inner Princess participant Jaelan Price, also raised in Como, said. “Her work with young ladies changes their outlook and exposes them to the countless possibilities ahead of them. It’s a pleasure to know Miss Edna!”

Price went on to graduate from All Saints Episcopal School, where she was also class president. She graduated from Elon University in North Carolina in 2023.

Expanding the nonprofit

In fact, Jackson has made similar arrangements to help children in other places, such as Detroit and Flint, Michigan, along with Tuskegee, Alabama. Through social media, she was contacted to help and, just as she saw locally, these cities have higher levels of hopelessness and despair in certain communities. When the opportunity arose to help, she, of course, didn’t hesitate.

“These characteristics were very evident in youth and young adults. When asked about their future they had no idea of what they wanted to do or direction of how to obtain support,” she said.

Upon closer examination, she noticed that some areas there, just as here, lacked opportunities that would allow for connections and partnerships to be formed.

As for other communities in other cities, she said, “These services can be offered anywhere there is a collaborative agreement arranged.”

Among those who reached out to her is the Rev. Douglas Nicholson of Tuskegee. They met online about four years ago and he invited her to his city, where she met with him and other officials.

“I became an active member of the Inner Princess Program and wrote the Inner Princess song. She became an activist for children in Tuskegee and Macon County,” Nicholson said. “Through her visits to Tuskegee, things started to change in our community. The first graduate from Freedom Learning Institute Tuskegee was my nephew Tyrone Taylor Jr., who now has a better job, and makes more money, thanks to the teachings of Edna Jackson.

“Many young girls have become better students and better mentors due to Edna’s mentorship. She became Queen Edna to many of the girls ,and gave them a willing mindset to believe in themselves.”

Coming home

Jackson attended Western Hills High School in Fort Worth until her final semester, when she got married, transferred to and graduated from a military high school program in Schweinfurt, Germany in 1982.

Later, she attended college at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where her sister lived. Going through a divorce and wanting the best for her own children (two sons and a daughter), she enrolled and received an associate’s degree in health care management.

But she didn’t stop there. She also became CPR certified, graduated from Wards Modeling School, graduated from Vogue Beauty School, became a dance instructor, and is a member of the Westside Association of Christian Home Educators.

“While in Alaska my sister recognized a need for me to acquire skills for working,” Jackson said. “From the encouragement and support provided I completed the program.”

She returned to the familiarity of her home, Fort Worth, in 1988 and settled into the workforce. But inside she always felt there was more she could do to help improve society, starting with young people.

Over the years she has worked with several community organizations, including the Fort Worth Parks and Recreation Department, Fort Worth ISD’s 21st Century After-School Program, Focus In Life Ministries, House of Provisions, Women’s Haven, and Como Lion’s Heart.

But nothing makes her happier than making a difference in the life of a young person.

Funding

Currently, Jackson said much of her funding for the nonprofit is self-provided. She does receive clothing donations from family and friends.

“Of course, I welcome the needed support of funding — monetary donations, vehicles (cargo van, passenger van or trailer) food, clothing and household goods, volunteerism, prayer or whatever supportive resources,” she said.

“This is my passion, purpose and opportunity to impact society through love, education and collaborative efforts that bring about inspiration and power to be productive citizens. This requires all that will assist.”

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