When 5-year-old Jahkil Jackson first handed out food to folks living on the streets, he was saddened to learn that not everyone had homes to sleep in. He wanted people experiencing homelessness in Chicago to know that their community cared about them, so he thought of a small solution that’s had a big impact. Seven years later, Jahkil has helped over 30,000 people in his community and beyond — and his dream to help others keeps growing, one Blessing Bag at a time.
In the words of Jahkil and his parents, Na-Tae’ and Jamiel — the story of Project I Am from their interview on GoFundMe’s podcast, True Stories of Good People:
Jahkil: I had my first real experience helping those in need when I was 5 years old. It was during the winter, and I walked around Chicago with my aunt to give food to people who were facing homelessness. It made me really sad to see people on the streets because I didn’t understand why they were out in the cold and not inside their houses. At 5 years old, I thought everyone had homes.
That night, I asked my parents if we could give homes to everyone who was homeless, which obviously wasn’t possible. I remember being so upset by that — I just wanted to help.
Na-Tae’: When explaining why we couldn’t buy everyone homes, it was interesting trying to help a 5-year-old understand the dynamics of the world. It was definitely challenging to explain why some people didn’t have access to basic necessities while also trying to be sensitive to what his young mind could understand.
After that conversation, Jahkil never stopped asking us how we could help people. If we didn’t have money in the car to hand out to someone who was on the street asking for help, he would get really mad at us.
Jamiel: Keep in mind that a person coming up to a car asking for help in Chicago in the cold is an everyday thing. Jahkil felt like he needed to do something to help because he was seeing the homeless in our community who needed assistance every single day. We decided we had to figure out a solution.
Jahkil: My parents helped me brainstorm different things that we could do for those who were in need. We thought of the different things that we use on a daily basis that they don’t have access to and that’s how we came up with the idea to give out free Blessing Bags.
We made the first bags when we had a party at a local arcade and I asked my friends to bring toiletry items to put in the bags that we were going to hand out. Each Blessing Bag includes hand-warmers for the extremely cold winters in Chicago, wipes, socks, deodorant, hand sanitizer, granola bars, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and bottled water. We want the bags to include anything someone living on the street would need on any given day that you or I take for granted. It’s easy to forget how much something simple like toothpaste could help someone.
Jahkil: The first experience giving out the bags on the streets of Chicago was really was special because it was the first time I felt like I was making a difference — and that feeling was really amazing.
Over the last seven years, Blessing Bags has grown into a nonprofit called Project I Am. Our intention is to build awareness around homelessness with the goal of continuing to provide Blessing Bags to people in need in the future. People can either donate toiletry items for us to use in the bags, or they can donate money directly through our website or GoFundMe. I use those funds to buy toiletry items. I also have a clothing line called Trophies, and a portion of proceeds go back to building more Blessing Bags.
Na-Tae’: Some people also drop off or ship toiletry items to us. Some of the schools have donation drives, which is really cool because that gets more kids involved in helping their community.
Jahkil: Since 2016, we’ve given out 35,000 Blessing Bags. That number is really encouraging to me. It encourages me to try to make my goal even bigger every year. We’ve already given out 15,000 bags in 2019. My next goal is to start providing tiny homes for people. We were already given a tiny home from a company called Pallet in Seattle and we’re just trying to determine where to place it in Chicago.
Na-Tae’: When we saw that Jahkil was very passionate about helping other people at such a young age, we thought it was very important to be able to capture that and try to help cultivate it into something positive. But, we had no idea that it would turn into this. Now, he’s motivating other young people to get involved in their community — even his basketball teammates and classmates come out and help him stuff bags and pass them out.
Jamiel: Jahkil even got the chance to meet President Obama. Obama was the first black president and he’s from Chicago — and he knows who Jahkil is! That is overwhelming and powerful in what that represents to us. We had no idea that Jahkil’s Blessing Bags would become this impactful. We’re in it for the long haul. Jahkil is going to keep going no matter what — he’s so driven to help others.
Jahkil: My personal motto is, “Don’t wait to be great.” Just thinking about helping others and wanting to take action is a step in the right direction.