Kiesha Jackson’s world was, in many ways, a happy one.
The native Detroiter who grew up on the city’s west side excelled academically, graduating from Renaissance High School and attending the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Having taken an interest in health services, Jackson earned a degree in sociology – with a pre-health concentration – and eventually earned a master’s degree in health services administration from Central Michigan University.
She found work in human resources and all was well until she got a call from her mother one day saying that her brother had committed suicide.
“I didn’t believe it at the time,” Jackson says. “I called his phone over and over again. He actually took his life. I didn’t understand how he could do that.”
Her brother Caleb was 22 at the time. Jackson, in trying to accept and finally move past her grief, channeled this experience into research that would eventually inspire her. “I discovered how big of an issue suicide is particularly with youth ages 10-24,” Jackson says. “And for suicide, it’s 100 percent preventable. My nonprofit was formed out of that.”
Several months after her brother’s suicide, Jackson started Caleb’s Kids in April 2016. The nonprofit’s role is to combat suicide and spur mental illness awareness in youth. The organization focuses on youth ages 13-18, providing workshops “centered around resilience, coping skills, self-esteem, mental illness awareness, and suicide prevention,” she says.
Caleb’s Kids works with other nonprofits to achieve this goal. “I never wanted to create an organization where I felt like it took away youth from organizations who could also help them,” Jackson says. “I partner with a lot of the other organizations who have youth in their programs,” and from this partnership, workshops are scheduled on a case-by-case basis.
Wherever the need is, Jackson’s team tries to fill it – plus, to make it even more accessible, the workshops are free. Jackson adds: “Suicide is the third leading cause of death within that age range … we’re losing our youth whether we talk about it or not. We have to get in front of it. The whole goal of the organization is to get in front of those rates and help our youth live successful (and) rewarding lives.”
She encourages the community to support Caleb’s Kids’ efforts by following them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Each day they post facts about mental health and where to get help, and they explore ways to reduce the stigma around mental health.
“Each year, we want to increase our footprint and getting in front of as many people … with students, parents, and church groups across the metro Detroit area – getting in front of them purposely.”
This engagement includes an annual college scholarship award (awarding two per year), summer camp, a youth empowerment symposium and other events. All of this is to not only honor the memory of her brother, but also to help metro Detroit youth benefit from a “holistic approach” to helping improve mental health.
“I would say just overall, giving them the tools to thrive and be the best version of themselves that they can be, and to be that person daily,” Jackson says.
For more information about Caleb’s Kids, call 313-437-1609 or visit calebskidsfoundation.org.