WALLINGFORD — Kris Jackson has helped the Sheehan boys basketball team get off to a 7-2 start this season, but the senior forward is equally proud of his work off the court.
Jackson founded “Just be You,” an Instagram podcast for kids who are bullied or going through tough times to talk and share their experiences.
“What made me start ‘Just Be You’ was because I was bullied as a kid,” Jackson said. “I wasn’t very athletic. I didn’t play sports and I was always the last one picked. People also bullied me for the way I looked. They didn’t like my hair or my skin color. I struggled with that and I struggled with my self image. I struggled with who I was as a person for a long time.”
“It was just a lot of people excluding me,” he added. “I never really had a lot of friends. At a young age, I was at a school that was predominately Caucasian. I was the only African American. When kids would bully me because of my color from ages 9 or 10 on, I knew I was different from everyone else. That’s what I struggled with. I knew wherever I went that’s what it was going to be. I never really had a friend group. I was struggling who I could talk to. I felt I had no one back then and now I’m making sure everyone else has someone.”
Jackson lived in Cheshire until he was 9, then moved to Ashburn, Virginia before returning to Connecticut and settling in at Sheehan as a sophomore.
Jackson said he hasn’t experienced bullying in Wallingford. He is a 6-foot-4 senior captain on the basketball team and, last May, he started his “Just be You” podcast to help other students going through struggles in their teens.
“After a while I realized there were other kids going through the same thing as me, including divorce,” Jackson said. “I’ve seen things that most kids at a young age don’t see. I’ve matured very early.
“Kids already say I’m really good at giving out advice, so I wanted to make something out of this.”
It’s caught on. Jackson has 1,200 followers and averages about 90 listeners for his weekly live podcast.
He’s added some high profile followers, such as actress Kym Whitley and the father of Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
“Everyone is welcome from ages 2 to 100. If they message me, I will answer them,” Jackson said. “I know what I went through was very hard and very traumatic for me. This podcast is about no one else going through the same things that I went through again alone. I want to make the world a better place.”
Jackson has aired nine podcasts since October. To listen, visit https://anchor.fm/KrisJ.
Many of the podcasts are done with Sheehan classmates. They discuss various teenager issues, like bullying or being the new kid in school.
Jackson also has a 35-minute interview with his father Benard Jackson, the bassist and singer of the R&B band Surface. Bernard wrote the group’s No. 1 hit, “Shower Me With Your Love.”
Jackson’s uncles are Kyle and Ian McIntosh, two former football greats at Cheshire High School who helped bring the program to national status with six straight state championships in the 1990s. Jackson’s cousins are former Cheshire athletic standouts Bri and Kylee McIntosh. Kylee just finished her first year as the Cheshire varsity girls soccer head coach.
Jackson has also been sponsored by Wallingford’s Ulbrich Boys & Girls Club. He has spread his positive message to younger children at the club four times this school year, including at a symposium on vaping.
He’s received a Daughters of the American Revolution “Good Citizen” award for Just Be You. Recently, he was told by Sheehan Principal Enzo Zocco that he was nominated for a community service award. Jackson has logged more than 1,400 hours of community service.
“I’m a very sympathetic person,” Jackson said. “I remember all of the pain and the days that I was crying because the principal said he couldn’t help me. I felt alone.
“I can see that in people’s eyes. I can hear it when they are talking. I hate it and I just want to erase it. If I could erase depression and anxiety, I would. But I know that it’s damn near impossible. But I’m going to try my best to help as many people as I can.”
Sheehan boys basketball coach Joe Gaetano vouched for Jackson’s character.
“He’s likeable and well respected in our community and our program,” Gaetano said. “My main objective as a coach is not winning or losing; it’s watching these kids mature into good citizens and good people and create good futures for themselves.”
Sheehan athletic director Chris Dailey said Jackson is a tremendous ambassador for the Sheehan basketball team and Sheehan athletics.
“There’s a reason why he’s a captain as he has natural leadership abilities,” Dailey remarked. “I’m really proud of him and the initiative he has shown to use these leadership skills to have a positive impact on the community.”