40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Wesley Jackson

Associate Director, Springfield South End Community Center; Age 37

Wesley Jackson

Wesley Jackson

Many recognize “Do the Right Thing” as the title of a movie. Wes Jackson has made the phrase his life mantra, helping boys and young men at risk realize their potential.

Jackson started at Springfield’s South End Community Center 17 years ago, as an intern coaching basketball. Today, he manages day-to-day operations there, a multi-faceted job made more challenging five years ago when a tornado destroyed the center, pushing services to various satellite locations. But he says his biggest challenge is keeping kids on the right path, one he followed because of his own experience.

“I grew up on Parker Street in Springfield, across from the former Green Leaf Community Center,” he explained. “The programs they developed kept me out of trouble, and I wanted to do the same thing in my life.”

Jackson has stayed close to nearly 50 area boys and men who’ve gone through the programs he’s involved in, including two more jobs he holds, coaching at the Springfield Commonwealth Academy and serving as athletic director for the Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School in Holyoke. “I like working with them and shaping their lives,” he said.

Many of these guys call him ‘Pops’ or ‘Dad,’ and two men, in particular, have seen their lives change for the better because of his influence.

In 2011, he was leading a discussion group as part of the RISE character-development program, when a young man revealed he was being bullied. “Kids were calling him names, making him feel bad about himself,” he said. With the support of the boy’s parents and school, Jackson worked with him to build his confidence. After the bullying stopped, the student excelled academically and went on to captain his high-school football team. He’ll graduate in June.

Jackson gave a second young man the life skills he needed to leave a life of crime behind, moving the boy into his home for two years following jail time for selling drugs. He got the boy on the basketball team and literally showed him how to ‘do the right thing’ on a daily basis. The young man got a job, graduated from high school, and went on to earn degrees from Holyoke Community College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams.

While not yet a father, Jackson considers all the kids he works with his own — he’s pictured (center) with a few individuals who have been through the center’s programs — and looks forward to helping them grow, succeed … and lead.

—Alta Stark