Jewél Jackson embraces every opportunity to gain hands-on experience and expand her writing portfolio as she prepares for a life of truth-telling as an investigative journalist.
As an only child growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, Jewél Jackson was an accomplished athlete and a voracious reader. “I was that student who would check a book out of the library and return it the next day because I had finished reading it,” she remembers. As she grew, her love for reading inspired her to begin writing. “I have kept journals and diaries since I could write,” she says. “I’d write about my days, my emotions, my life. It was always my escape and the best way I could express myself.”
That pastime served her well through the upheaval of moving across the globe at the age of 11. “My dad was working in Kuwait, but all I knew and was comfortable with was my hometown,” she says. “It was the middle of sixth grade and I had made friends and joined the basketball team. I was nervous about having to leave and insert myself in a new space in a new location.”
It turned out to be an unexpectedly wonderful experience.
“I went to an international school, where the student body was used to students coming and going,” Jackson recalls. “They welcomed me with open arms. I had to get used to a new culture and new people, but it was something I am very grateful for to this day.” Each spring break, Jackson and her parents would go to a new place: Paris, Norway, Egypt, Malaysia, South Africa. And every summer they would return to the United States.
Jackson and her parents spent the summer of 2015 touring American colleges. “I knew I wanted to attend a school with a great journalism program, and The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications made Syracuse an obvious choice,” she says. “I remember feeling like the campus was so big and I wondered how students could make it to classes on time because the buildings felt so spread out.” The exceptional beauty of the Syracuse campus struck her when the spires of Crouse College came into view.
The child who loved to read and write had grown into a young woman who wanted her college experience to go way beyond that. “I wanted my writing to have an importance behind it,” she says. “Living in Kuwait, I was exposed to different cultures and religions, and whenever I came back to the U.S. there was always a clash between reality and what people thought of the Middle East due to stereotypes. Likewise, there are different interpretations of what America is like from abroad. When I read a book called ‘Five Days at Memorial,’ I was exposed to investigative journalism, and I knew I wanted that to be my focus. I wanted my work to expose the truth about social injustice and give voice to underrepresented communities.”
Jackson applied to Syracuse University with her sights set on Newhouse, but wasn’t initially admitted. She enrolled in the College of Visual and Performing Arts as a communication and rhetorical studies (CRS) major with a goal of doing an intra-University transfer to Newhouse. “I was really determined,” she says, and credits her mother with helping her navigate a path that would make every class count. “I showed my dedication and ended up being accepted to Newhouse spring semester of my sophomore year. Thanks to my mother, I’m on track to graduate a semester early with a degree in newspaper and online journalism.”
She values the skills and self-confidence gained through her CRS classes. “I am grateful for the class discussions because they taught me to become more comfortable with voicing my beliefs, disagreements and thoughts about various topics, inside and outside the classroom,” she says, and acknowledges that her college experience has opened her mind in many different ways. “Syracuse University is not just about academics and what you learn from your professors. It’s also about life lessons. It’s about learning, evolving, doing and becoming better for yourself and your community.”
A willingness to embrace a multitude of hands-on learning opportunities has added significantly to Jackson’s education and expertise. She has served as an intern at WFPL, a National Public Radio flagship radio station in Louisville, as well as the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting (KyCIR). “At WFPL, I covered local daily news and produced web and on-air radio stories. I learned how to mix audio and gained great exposure. For KyCIR, I wrote an investigative piece about the local police using thermal imaging to look into citizens’ homes and determine if a marijuana grow operation was occurring.”
That story garnered a lot of attention. It was about Tyrone Evans, a man whose home was raided by narcotics detectives with police dogs, only to reveal that the energy source police thought was a grow operation was actually Christmas lights powered by an energy source in his backyard shed. “The police intimidated the man into handing over a small amount of marijuana that was so old the police dogs hadn’t even detected it,” she explains. “A ‘possession of marijuana’ charge turned his life upside down. He was unable to find work, acquired legal fees, had to attend drug school and suffers from depression. After the story was released the county attorney released a statement that low-level marijuana possession charges would no longer be prosecuted.” Jackson plans to return to KyCIR and WFPL this summer.
On campus, Jackson is an intern and mentor for the Dimensions mentorship program within the Office of Multicultural Affairs. “I help with communications, event planning and recruitment. We don’t just focus on academics but on the experience of being a student and human being,” she says. Jackson also serves as the events chair for the Syracuse University chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists and on the Newhouse Career Development Center’s student staff. She covers hip-hop music and culture as a writer for the Mixtape digital team and is a writer/reporter for the Newhouse Student News Team. She is president of the newly formed mentorship group MARGINS, which helps freshman and transfer LGBTQIA+ and students of color acclimate on campus. She is also an Emma Bowen fellow, a nationally recognized program for up-and-coming media/journalism students of color.
Jackson serves as editor-in-chief of Femme Noire—a campus magazine written by women of color for women of color—and is excited to be expanding her role at the Daily Orange newspaper as an assistant editor for the opinion section. “When I first decided to write for The Daily Orange as the ‘Gender and Sexuality’ columnist, I took a risk because it was outside my comfort level,” Jackson says. “But the more I thought about it, I realized I’m a woman, I have opinions, and my voice should be heard. While not all my articles are directly about gender or sexuality, I stay true to what I want to do, which is write about topics that are uncomfortable and speak a truth about it. Writing the column has been great, and I’ve received so much support,” she says.
“Syracuse University is not just about academics and what you learn from your professors. It’s also about life lessons. It’s about learning, evolving, doing and becoming better for yourself and your community.”Jewél Jackson
Jackson recently added an impressive accolade to her portfolio: she was named a 2020-21 Remembrance Scholar. The scholarships were founded as a tribute to the 35 Syracuse University students killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988. These students were returning to the U.S. from a semester studying in London and Florence and were among 270 people who perished on the plane and on the ground when the plane fell over Lockerbie, Scotland. The prestigious $5,000 Remembrance Scholarships are awarded to students in their junior year based on scholarship, leadership and service to the community.
“This is an important honor because these 35 students had lifelong goals that were similar to mine, but they didn’t get to make their goals a reality,” Jackson says. “As I was completing my application and reading documents and personal letters in the Pan Am 103 archives, I couldn’t help but get emotional. You realize this could have happened to anyone, and it gives you an appreciation of your own life, what you are able to accomplish, and what you want to be known as. It showed me that the little things I do can have a great impact on someone else, and the importance of being patient, compassionate and understanding toward others.”
Jackson says her parents in Kuwait deserve credit for her success, as they have provided unwavering support. Her mother has helped her with the mechanics of planning out what she wants her future to look like. “None of this would have been possible without her,” she says. “She has spent countless nights—with a time difference of seven hours—helping me plan my future, talking to me about my goals, creating excel sheets to track my next steps, and keeping me motivated even when I have doubted myself. She has been my inspiration because she is the type of woman I want to become.”
Jackson’s father has given her confidence and reassurance that as a Black woman, she can achieve anything she wants. “When I was younger my dad made me read a book about previously untold Black achievements and do presentations about them,” she remembers. “At the time, I didn’t get the point, but now I understand that he wanted me to know I come from a lineage of strong and determined people.”
Passion and authenticity are the two most important traits one needs to succeed as a journalist, Jackson believes. “This isn’t the highest paying job in the world, so you have to have a passion for it. It can’t be about the money. You have to be authentic because you’re interacting with people and their lives, learning about their experiences and seeing them become vulnerable as you tell their story to the world. I want to use my platform to tell the truth, whether it’s ugly or pretty. There are injustices and misconceptions that need to be exposed and spoken about; I will speak about them.”
Jackson envisions a future filled with travel and investigative journalism. “I see a lot of happiness and freedom for myself ahead,” she says, grateful that she’ll be able to look back at her time at Syracuse knowing that she took advantage of every opportunity to hone her writing skills. “I’m going to remember learning about myself, exploring my own independence and shaping myself into the person I want to become.”