“I can’t guarantee you that you’ll succeed, but at least you can say you tried.”
That theme has echoed throughout Jamaal Clayborn’s life. Growing up in inner city Jackson, Jamaal’s first love was always football, and it was that love that led him to an educational opportunity that would change his life forever.
In the sixth grade at Jackson Public Schools, students were not allowed to play football – the only thing Jamaal wanted to do. His school principal made the announcement that a new little league football team was coming to Jackson, and he went home and told his mom about the new team and that he wanted to play. Jamaal’s mother was working two jobs trying to make ends meet for the family of 10 that was crowded into a tiny, low-income apartment off Forest Avenue.
“There were seven of us kids plus my aunt and grandmother living in that apartment so you can imagine the type of strain it was to feed that many people off of one income,” Jamaal said.
Recreational football was not high on the priority list for Jamaal’s mother.
“I don’t have money for you to play on that team,” Jamaal’s mother told him.
“Just drop me off over there and see what happens,” Jamaal pleaded with her.
The next day he showed up and met Kelley Williams, Jr., one of the coaches of the Jackson Colts little league team. Kelley along with several other dads organized the team and they quickly recognized Jamaal’s ability.
“Kelley told me he’d give me a ride to and from practice,” said Jamaal.
It was those trips to and from football where Kelley and his son Zach bonded with Jamaal.
“Zach would ride with Kelley to drop me off. He was always so kind to me, and Kelley would help us with Thanksgiving,” Jamaal said.
As the bond grew, Kelley began to ask about school.
“That was interesting to me because most coaches never ask you about school,” he laughed.
Jamaal’s education experience until that point had been difficult.
“School was not a priority in that environment,”
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