After experiencing three shootings in Sulphur Springs, Tampa, Florida, Yuki Jackson knew it was time to act.
“Do what you can with what you have to make a difference. Even if it takes a while to see the impact you are making”, Yuki Jackson, Founder of The Battleground.
No one knows how we are going to react in the face of danger and tragedy. We can speculate, but we can never be certain. And afterwards, when our reality has been shattered by violence and destruction, the path we take will define us as human beings. Just like Haruki Murakami wrote in the book Kafka on the Shore: “When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about”.
And that’s when Yuki Jackson´s story of compassion began, seconds after the first of three shootings occurred within a period of the week in Spring of 2017 in the conflicted neighborhood of Sulphur Springs. Yuki had been working in the community library since 2015 while she pursued her Masters in Fine Arts for Creative Writing and she had gotten very attached to the regular visitors, especially children.
“I remember I was outside the library collecting books from the book drop when the first gunshot happened. I ran inside and we had to go on lockdown, take all the safety precautions and protect the kids. And as I was doing all of this, I started to think that I had to do something to prevent this from happening again”, recalls Yuki.
Poetry as a Friend
Yuki had experienced the benefits of art expression in her own life. Being born in Japan and having to move constantly due to her father being in the military meant that reading and writing became a safe place for her, a friend. During her teenage years she struggled to find her purpose but that changed after reading the works of the Buddhist monk and philosopher Nichiren Daishonin.
“He talked about the nature of life and I found in his writings a lot of what I was seeking. The way he spoke about life was very poetic so I started writing poetry as a way for me of finding meaning and purpose in my life and make sense of experiences and things I saw in the world that didn’t make sense to me. I was using poetry as a therapy although I wasn’t conscious of it. It was a natural expression of a teenager who felt a little bit lost”.
Art as a Means to Prevent Violence
Yuki pursued a Bachelor degree in Criminology aiming to create art programs in correctional facilities. So after the shootings in Sulphur Springs she decided to work with the children and teenagers from the neighborhood using art to prevent violence. In September 2018 she founded The Battleground where she implemented free year-round weekly martial arts and poetry/rap sessions and monthly Poetry Pizza Parties at the Sulphur Springs Public Library.
“This project was born out of watching and talking to the children and taking their interests into consideration. My highest hope is that they understand the value of their life”, affirms Yuki, who was in charge of the poetry classes along with other teachers and local artists who contributed.
Some of the participants in the project had a special impact on Yuki. She remembers a couple of young boys who were particularly restless, hard to handle and were often left out due to their attitude. Yet, she decided to use a different approach and include them as direct helpers in The Battleground´s activities, giving them a sense of purpose. That made an enormous difference in their lives.
“I saw a change in their attitude for the better, because they were fulfilling something beyond themselves. One of them even started to participate in a leadership program at school and he is doing great. The part I feel most proud of is that the program is empowering the youth. I want them to use the experiences and skills they have obtained through the program to overcome any challenge in their life”, says Yuki.
A Challenging Project
Yuki found out about The Pollination Project through the internet while she was looking to fund the creation of a manga written and illustrated by the children from The Battleground. The TPP seed fund will allow the participants to complete the creation of the manga, as well as to print 100 copies.
“I feel very grateful because TPP’s seed fund is going to be what enables us to complete this project that we have been working on. I am very grateful for this opportunity to share about the power and the impact of art education programs among at-risk youth and I am hoping this will enable us to move forward, not only at the monetary level but on the emotional and spiritual levels”, said Yuki. “This is the first time we are receiving this kind of support outside the local community and it feels like a hopeful sign.”
If you are inspired by this work and have an idea for a project that addresses an issue that you are passionate about, we’d like to invite you to submit an application and together we will build a better, more compassionate future!
If you would like to support the work of more changemakers like this around the world, please visit our donation page and make a gift today!