Next Up Columbus 2023: Karim “KJ” Jackson

Karim "KJ" Jackson
Karim "KJ" Jackson

Photo courtesy of Karim Jackson

Interview by Derek Grosso

Name: Karim “KJ” Jackson
Age: 38
Profession: Assistant Director of Development at I Know I Can
Neighborhood: Gahanna
Education: Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Wilberforce University, Master’s degree in Student Affairs in Higher Education & Sports Management from Wright State University
Community Involvement: Founder of Jackson Sports & Leadership Academy, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Head JV Boys Basketball Coach at Walnut Ridge HS
Quote: “Discipline is doing what you hate to do, but nonetheless doing it like you love it.” – Mike Tyson
Connect: LinkedIn | Instagram

Give us a snapshot of your path:
I was raised in Columbus by a social worker and educator/coach, and I was always surrounded by people who strived to serve and develop others which ultimately shaped who I am. As a proud 2003 graduate of Columbus City Schools, I went on to attend Wilberforce University, the nation’s oldest private, historically black University owned and operated by African Americans where I majored in Business Management while playing basketball. After graduating from Wilberforce University, I attended Wright State University and earned my master’s degree in higher education and sports management. As an advocate for education, I have had the opportunity to work in higher education, government relations, K-12 education, and non-profits with the consistent goal of serving and developing others.

What gets you up in the morning? And what gets you through the workweek?
While my day begins with an early morning workout, being able to make a positive impact on our community gives me the motivation needed to strive for the best each day. Some of my days are long and challenging, but knowing the difference I am making for the students and families of central Ohio ultimately drive me to the finish line each week.

What advice or mentors have helped guide you along the way?
I have been blessed to have some amazing people support me throughout my journey. Of course, my parents and family have played an integral role in guiding me along the way. In addition to my village, I have worked for some amazing leaders at every organization I have been with. While at Wright State University, Bob Grant and Roderick Perry allowed me an opportunity of a lifetime to work in collegiate athletics right out of college. Derek Anderson, Toya Johnson, and Randall Sistrunk challenged me to go beyond my comfort zone when I was working at the City of Columbus and continue to do so today. Katina Fullen and Cheryl Willis have allowed me to be creative in my work and have entrusted me with leadership roles while working with I Know I Can and Columbus City Schools. Leaders develop leaders and I have been lucky to have been surrounded by exceptional leaders that continue to guide me along my way.

What do you do or where do you go to unwind?
Being a father, husband, coach, and active community member winding down usually looks like an unplanned nap. Additionally, I enjoy catching my favorite DJ, Krate Digga, spinning his latest set or a comedy show to get a good laugh. Working out helps me build discipline and is often a much-needed moment to unwind.

What are a few of your favorite local spots in Columbus?
I enjoy spending time at the Upper Cup Coffee or grabbing some wings and a drink while listening to some of the best DJs in Columbus at Marvin’s Restaurant & Lounge. I also enjoy Willowbeez SoulVeg which is great spot for some of the best vegan food.

When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be like my Dad when I grew up. As we call him, “The Real” Jesse Jackson. My Dad is as perfect of a man as there can be. He has been so influential not only for me and my siblings but for everyone he meets, both young and seasoned. He has set the expectation high, not only by his words but more importantly by his actions.

What books or podcasts are you reading/listening to right now?
I’m currently reading The Ask by Laura Fredricks, The Quiet Storm by Ronald Bailey, getting caught up on the Mahogany Columbus magazine issues, and the NESTA Personal Fitness Trainer Manual as I’m studying to become a personal fitness trainer.

What does it mean to you to be chosen for the Next Up Columbus award?
To be chosen for the Next Up Columbus award makes me feel incredibly proud, as this is a testament to all who have supported and mentored me through the years. Being recognized for this award is a thank you to all of them and a reminder that hard work, impactful work doesn’t go unnoticed.

If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them?
The pulse of Columbus is a spirited combination of innovation, diversity, and community. Columbus has a dynamic element that reflects its reputation as a hub for various industries, including education, technology, fashion, and healthcare. The residents of Columbus take pride in weaving their own cultural identity into the fabric of the city in addition to taking part in community engagement and collaborative initiatives.

The Next Up Columbus Awards highlight emerging leaders who are connectors and ambassadors in central Ohio and who are making a positive impact on the future of Columbus. The Columbus Young Professionals Club would like to offer special thanks to our 2023 co-presenters, Discover Financial, Ohio Dominican University and Quantum Health for their support of this year’s awards program. Meet the entire “Class of 2023” »



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