Malik Jackson doesn't want future generations to forget about the day African Americans became free citizens in the U.S.
Juneteenth, which is celebrated June 19th as the day of emancipation of African Americans who had been enslaved, has always held an important significance to Jackson. This year, he wanted to find an opportunity to share the story of the day, which recently passed legislation to become a federal holiday, to youth around Northeast Ohio.
So Jackson and his publicist, Rob Wilson, researched proper children's books to share with students at George Washington Carver in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and selected the Juneteenth-themed book "All Different Now: Juneteenth the First Day of Freedom," by Angela Johnson and E.B. Lewis.
Jackson, who also mentioned the rise of social justice initiatives and the push to eliminate systemic racism as reasons for the donation, also spoke with Lewis over the phone to confirm his decision to share the book. He completed the donation of 250 books to the school district Thursday.
"Being an African American and seeing what we're going through now, I think it's important to know the day we were free and what we went through," Jackson said in an interview with ClevelandBrowns.com. "I think you have to know your past to prepare for your future. And that's what I'm trying to do so that people understand we went through a lot of things."
"All Different Now" takes place in 1865 and tells the story of the first Juneteenth through the perspective of a little girl. The picture book includes notes from the author and illustrator, a timeline of important dates and a glossary of relevant terms.
"I chose this book because it allowed me to control the narrative of how much I wanted to share and how much physical violence people went through," Jackson said. "It shows you the basics, as a parent, that allows you to dictate the narrative and let you go as far in-depth as you want to go."
Jackson specifically wanted to target kids to send his message about Juneteenth after pulling inspiration from his daughter, Nahla, who's five years old and has opened Jackson up to the importance of education at a young age.
"If you don't have kids, you don't understand the things that they're teaching," Jackson said. "You kind of go from school and you think it's all right, but then as you learn more that you want your daughter to be taught the right things. I believe it's up to the parents to do that. We haven't all been taught about Juneteenth, and I think that's a problem.
"Being a parent has just opened up my lack of education from our culture, and it just makes me want to do more."
Jackson's donation is another example of what the Browns are encouraging within the franchise as part of the "Be the Solution" campaign, which has encouraged Browns players, coaches, employees and fans to take active roles in fighting racial injustice through donations, personal education and creating dialogue.
Jackson's efforts are also geared toward helping the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, which has been a part of the Browns' "Stay in the Game! Keep Learning, Every Day!" initiative for six years to help support students and ensure they have what they need to be present and engaged at school. Launched in 2019, the Cleveland Browns Foundation, in partnership with the Ohio Department of Education and Proving Ground at Harvard University, created the "Stay in the Game! Keep Learning, Every Day!" Network, a statewide initiative designed to promote the importance of school attendance and reduce chronic absenteeism. The Browns are dedicated to improving the quality of education for students in Ohio by making investments that keep kids in school every day so they can succeed, highlighted by the "Stay in the Game!" Network. The team and its network partners and collaborators deploy attendance-focused campaigns, sharpening school improvement plans, launch attendance strategies and evaluate the impact to better support Ohio's schools and districts through collective impact.
For more information on Juneteenth and resources on African American history, the NFL is offering EVERFI's 306 African American History curriculum as an educational resource. The curriculum can be found at https://nfl.everfi-next.net/welcome/nfl.