YouthBridge Community Fund Carries on a Legacy
Alone with his thoughts on the four-hour flight to St. Louis, Quinton Cancel replayed all of the life lessons he’d received from the man he knew as his father and wondered how he could sufficiently honor him. “I owe so much of who I am to Otis, as do many others, and I felt a responsibility to keep his legacy alive,” he says.
Otis Jackson came into Cancel’s life when he was a 12-year-old “man of the house,” acting as protector of his mother and younger sister after his parents’ divorce. “I wasn’t quite sure what to think at first when Otis began dating my mom, but he took an immediate interest in me and my sister and I felt kind of relieved that we had him to look out for us. He was just there for us and had so many traits we admired,” says Cancel. Jackson would marry Cancel’s mom three years later.
Jackson was one of five children raised in South St. Louis. Graduating from Vashon High School – the second high school built for Black students in St. Louis – he went on to Harris Teachers College (now Harris Stowe State University) to study Education, with an emphasis in Mathematics. Determined to better himself and his community through education, Jackson then earned his Master’s in Urban Affairs and a Ph.D. in Educational Policy and Program Development. After serving as Assistant Provost of Academic Affairs at the University of Missouri-Columbia, he was recruited to the executive team at INROADS.
At INROADS, a nonprofit dedicated to pairing talented minority high school seniors and college students with paid internships at top corporations across the country, Jackson touched countless lives, says Cancel. “He was all about passing on empowerment – helping kids tap into their potential and exposing them to what’s available to them. He helped me dream beyond what I ever thought possible and was instrumental in getting me where I am today.” Cancel, now a Board certified Urologist practicing in Asheville, North Carolina, remembers when Jackson would clip out healthcare related articles for him from The Wall Street Journal. “That’s really what sparked my interest in medicine.”
In addition to his professional work, Jackson served on numerous boards and also taught Bible classes at his church. Of all his work, his most beloved role was as husband, father and grandfather, says Cancel, whose children knew him as Papa. Cancel’s sister, Gina, was the apple of Otis’s eye, he says, and no one was more proud when she earned her nursing degree.
Upon his retirement from INROADS, Jackson returned to the classroom, teaching mathematics for the Hazelwood School District and his alma mater, Vashon, where his love for academics began. And, so, on that long, empty plane ride, Cancel’s mind went to the place where it started and seemingly would end for his dad. He’d been told that Jackson, who was diagnosed with COVID-19, would not make it through the night. He would never see Otis again, as Jackson passed away on May 25, 2020, but he knew how to carry on his spirit.
The Dr. Otis A. Jackson Scholarship Fund was established through YouthBridge this summer. The Fund awards scholarships to high school seniors attending Vashon that have an interest in pursuing a degree in Education. “Our hope is to award two scholarships each year beginning in 2021,” says Cancel. “It’s still a tough road for many Black students, but Otis would want them to dream big and would love to see others follow in his footsteps of empowerment through education.”
If you would like to donate or have any questions about this Fund, please contact Lisa Baltz.