“My daughter really made me proud, and I’m just so proud of her. Even when I thought she wasn’t listening she was. Beyond what I expected, above and beyond.”
– Barbara Thomas on her daughter, Quanita “Tay” Jackson.
Quanita “Tay” Jackson’s Mom
It takes an estimated 46 minutes for the average person to walk from 49th and center up to Moody Park, which is located near 22nd and Burleigh in the city of Milwaukee. This is a journey that 20-year-old Quanita “Tay” Jackson made often, as she walked to Moody Park on a mission to better her community.
Jackson trail blazed a legacy of service on those walks and was involved in various nonprofit organizations in the city of Milwaukee.
COA Youth & Family Centers, Fresh Empire as a Milwaukee ambassador, True Skool as she pursued her passion for music, and most recently as a youth ambassador with Program the Parks.
Her mother, Barbara Thomas, recalls her daughter’s devotion to helping others; whether that involved walking her friends all the way downtown to assist them with filling out job applications, or skipping a meal to ensure she made it to a community event on time, including the ones she performed in as an artist.
“One time she performed, and she passed out, because she didn’t eat prior,” Thomas said. “She skipped meals if she overslept, she was very determined and committed to the community.”
“She bought the crowd to True Skool, Fresh Empire, Program the Parks, and she was doing some stuff with (Senator) Lena Taylor as well,” Thomas continued. “She was bringing the big people out, and they had nothing but respectful things to say.”
Towards the end of the summer in 2019, Jackson was displaying her commitment to her community once again, this time playing a vital role in orchestrating a 3 on 3 basketball tournament at Moody Park in coordination with Program the Parks. The tournament was put on in an effort to achieve Program the Park’s goal of violence interruption and intervention for Milwaukee’s youth.
On August 25th, 2019, just one day after the basketball tournament, Quanita “Tay” Jackson’s life was cut short at 20 years old after being struck by a bullet while in Moody Park.
Heartbreak And The Light That Followed
“As a family it took us all by surprise, like why her?” Thomas questioned. “We used to tease her that she sucked at being bad, she didn’t get in trouble out here; she never did anything illegal. I was behind her making sure she wasn’t going in the wrong direction.”
The unexpected loss of Jackson rocked the Amani Neighborhood community, and became the driving force behind the creation of the Moody Park Project, which will see all three basketball courts at the park repainted to honor the life of Jackson while simultaneously inspiring the next generation of youth who visit the area.
“I hated that park when I was child,” Thomas said. It’s known to be a danger zone, so for it to get turned out for something positive; it’s going to make the kids want to do more. Especially if they hear the story behind it, that could be their motivation.”
A part of Jackson’s story is not only serving others, but also overcoming her own challenges with a learning disability.
“She struggled with that,” Thomas acknowledged. “I always was her motivation, to let her know not to let that define her. She felt like she wasn’t enough, and I came in as a parent to remind her that she is enough. Just because it takes her a minute to get something, it does not mean that she is dumb; some people take the short way, some people take the long way.”
“I bring up her disability to encourage other kids,” Thomas continued. “I was that parent that motivated her to not let her learning disability take her down in a negative way.”
Heeding her mother’s guidance, Jackson overcame her learning disability to pursue her passion for music through her service with True Skool, advocated for tobacco-free lifestyles for Teenagers as a Milwaukee ambassador with Fresh Empire, and participated in community organizing with Program the Parks.
“She was creating the space as a youth ambassador for True Skool,” Thomas said. “For Fresh empire, she had a nice position, but she was bringing the crowd. As for program the Parks, she stayed advertising and getting the word out. She just bought the crowd wherever she was at and it was in a positive light.”
“She always wanted to be accepted, she always wanted to be loved, and she always wanted to be a part of something,” Thomas recalled. “I was just amazed; she was out here making me proud.”