Black History Today: Janiece ‘Grandma’ Jackson, Supplying Endless Love to Seattle’s Central District

by Marcus Harden

(Black History Today is published in collaboration with Rise up for Students.)

“To acknowledge our ancestors means we are aware that we did not make ourselves, that the line stretches all the way back, perhaps to God; or to Gods. We remember them because it is an easy thing to forget: that we are not the first to suffer, rebel, fight, love and die. The grace with which we embrace life, in spite of the pain, the sorrow, is always a measure of what has gone before.”

—Alice Walker

There’s an old adage that a grandparent is a little bit parent, a little bit teacher, and a little bit best friend. I’d have to believe that to be true. I’ve always found myself enamored with those who have become veterans of this thing we call life ⁠— the historians, the wisdom-keepers and, especially in the Black community, the ones we deem worthy of being elders.

The true ascension into that pantheon is when you quite simply go by one name, and in Janiece Jackson’s case, for an entire community, she is known simply and with reverence as Grandma Jackson. If you grew up or have deeply spent time near the historic Central District (C.D.) of Seattle, you no doubt have encountered Grandma Jackson or know her large family (biological and extended).

Grandma Jackson is one of those community matriarchs that truly serves as the invisible hand and heart, her undeniable impact on so many that goes unseen yet never unnoticed. I first encountered Grandma Jackson about 15 years ago. I saw her waiting patiently and sweetly in the school office to conduct business for her “babies.” She looked at me and smiled that glowing smile and asked, “Are you a preacher?”

When I smiled and said “No,” she chuckled and said, “You should be!”

We both kind of laughed, and as grandmothers tend to do, Grandma Jackson’s warmth and wisdom drew me into conversation. I asked who her “babies” were, and she started naming off children ⁠— dang near one in every grade, and this school was a K–8! Yet when she spoke of her babies, she didn’t just speak their names. She spoke of why they were special, as only a true grandmother could.

Over time I would learn that while that might have been my first face-to-face memory of Grandma Jackson, I’d engaged with the results of her legacy before, whether in the community at one of her babies’ games or events, meeting her elder children and nephews/nieces, realizing I’d known her before by the good fruit that she’d already been tending for so long.

One could easily be impressed by a woman who everyone refers to lovingly as “Grandma,” whether they’re a teenager or a grown adult. Her endearing presence, joyful selflessness, and an occasional look that seems to carry an invisible pinch that holds you accountable ⁠— her essence is always palpable.

What impresses me most about Grandma Jackson is what appears to be an endless supply of love to give. Her home is open to any and all who need it. She, along with Andrea Horton, another community legend, inspired me to think about getting my foster care license, as Grandma Jackson was always a phone call away for any child in need, be they by bloodline or by chosen relation.

Grandma Jackson is the type of community hero that we need and we deserve. Her contributions touch so many lives, and she is the representation of what unselfish, unwavering and endless unconditional love looks and feels like. It’s a cliché, but the world needs more Grandma Jacksons, because she personifies what it truly means to be Black History Today!

Marcus Harden is the creator of Black History Today, an annual series honoring Black History Month that pays tribute to the living legacy of Black history in our community and beyond. He is a seasoned educator, with experience as a teacher, counselor, dean, administrator, and program and policy manager. Marcus focuses his work on creating better culture and climate for students, families, and staff. He believes deeply in restorative justice practices and in mindset and resiliency work that leads to excellent and equitable educational outcomes for all students.

Featured illustration by Devin Chicras for the Emerald.

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