George A. Jackson, Class of 1976
Former Member, Prep Board of Trustees
One of George A. Jackson’s obituaries notes that he went “from Harlem to Harvard to Hollywood.” He also made a significant stop in the Bronx — specifically at Fordham Prep — before moving on to become a success in the movie and music industries and a generous supporter of the educational institutions that helped him along the way.
Born on the Feast of the Epiphany in 1958, George attended the experimental but struggling Monsignor William R. Kelly Middle School on West 83rd Street, taking the train from his uptown neighborhood where he lived with his mother, Henrietta Hogan Jackson (later, Stancil), a manager at the Amsterdam News.
Stories from George’s early years have been told by Jackson’s friend and classmate, Timothy Brosnan. Brosnan, who traveled from the Lower East Side of Manhattan to attend Monsignor Kelly, met George when they were both 10 years old. The neighborhood was a bit rough in the 1960s and early 1970s, and Tim was just one of many classmates who negotiated the area around West 83rd Street with the even-then brawny George as protection from the people who hassled the middle schoolers for their lunch money and subway fare.
Among Tim’s recollections is a morning assembly at which it was announced that a fellow student had, in fact, been badly beaten on his way to school that day. George and Tim erupted from the school building to scour the neighborhood — George was sure that he could identify the perpetrators and have them arrested. The memory of how exactly the episode ended may have faded over the years — though both boys did face disciplinary action for leaving the building during the school day — but the point was clear: no one messed with the students at Monsignor Kelly on George Jackson’s watch.
During his middle school days, Jackson came under the tutelage of the school’s principal, Bro. Brian Carty of the Christian Brothers of De La Salle who oversaw the school's academic program. In addition to religious formation and a rigorous plan of study in math, English and reading, the school also offered its 7th and 8th graders a film study class, a class that helped set George on his life’s work. The students watched everything from movie classics to more contemporary fare. George would later tell an associate that he had seen Shane forty times, but the first time was at Monsignor Kelly.
George entered Fordham Prep in the fall of 1972. He excelled academically, played football, and in Brosnan’s words, showed the school what it meant to have “swagger” — Tim Brosnan, who would go on to become executive vice president of Major League Baseball, had made the transition with George, becoming a fellow member of the Prep’s Class of 1976. “George wasn’t exactly your typical Fordham Prep student. He was supremely confident. He squeezed the last drop out of every day. He may not have been typical, but he made it so he fit in.”
According to classmate Ernest Robertson, both he and George were sidelined from sports by illness and injury during their first few weeks at Rose Hill. Encouragement came from both upperclassmen and staff members as the boys adjusted to their new school without the benefit of athletics to help them find their places. Trainer Mickey Maguire was one source of reassurance; senior Patrick Melendez, Class of 1973, was another, and would become one of George’s closest friends. As noted by Robertson and others, Jackson would always cherish the friends and connections he made at the Prep.
During his senior year, Jackson, the Baby Bull, was co-captain of the Prep’s Varsity Football Team, playing for fellow Hall of Honor member, Coach Bruce Bott. In Robertson’s words: “George carried himself like he was in charge.”
George Jackson was in charge, and he always had a plan, and that plan included Harvard University, which he entered in the fall of 1976. He was deeply shaken during his time in Cambridge when his friend, Pat Melendez, also a student at Harvard, was killed in the boxing ring.
After graduating from Harvard, Jackson hoped to be a fight promoter, but as he complained to Roberts, he found the unnecessary difficulty of breaking into the tight-knit business not worth his while and decided to consider the movie industry instead. George found his way to California where according to one friend, he “bullied his way into a studio training program.” In 1982, he started as a production assistant at Paramount Television.
His ascent was rapid. He and a partner, Doug McHenry, formed a production and management company whose early productions included 1985’s cult classic Krush Groove, a movie and soundtrack that were for hip-hop in the '80s what Saturday Night Fever and its soundtrack had been for disco a decade earlier. Other films that Jackson and McHenry produced included New Jack City, Kid ‘N Play’s House Party 2, House Party 3, Jason’s Lyric and A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, which starred Lynn Whitfield and Martin Lawrence. In Jackson and McHenry’s 1988 production, Body Count, George made a brief appearance himself as a ticket clerk, alongside members of a notable cast that included David Caruso, Linda Fiorentino, John Leguizamo and Forest Whitaker. George and Doug, whose company was known as Jackson-McHenry Entertainment, later renamed Elephant Walk Entertainment, also produced the UPN television series Malcolm & Eddie.
Fairly early in his film career, George was involved in a historically interesting, if ultimately commercially unsuccessful project. Along with Doug McHenry, record producer Quincy Jones, and noted music executive Clarence Avant, he served as co-producer of the 1989 film Stalingrad, which traveled back to 1942 to tell the story of the Battle of Stalingrad through the eyes of the soldiers who fought there. The award-winning Soviet director, Yuri Ozerov, had been unable to get funding for the huge project, so he approached Warner Brothers for support. In retrospect, Warner Brothers was apparently more interested in making inroads in Russia than in this particular film, and so, it was never distributed in the West. It is, however, recognized as the first Soviet-American joint film production made in the perestroika era, according to Spy magazine.
In 1997, Jackson was recruited by Motown executive and “Godfather of Black Music” Clarence Avant, with whom he had worked on the Stalingrad project, to take over as president and CEO at the legendary — and floundering — record label. George started at Motown in late 1997. At the time, it was noted that people in the music business pinned a great deal of hope on Jackson’s ability because his “blend of film and music expertise was an asset in the pop and R&B business, where videos and other visual mediums had become increasingly significant,” according to one business reporter.
Motown was eventually sold, but not before George had helped The Temptations get back on the charts with their first hit album in two decades. Temptations co-founder Otis Williams was quoted as saying, “George was the one who backed us up and green lighted everything we wanted to do.”
After Motown and up to the time of his death, George was involved in several Internet start-ups, including the Urban Box Office Network. Also about this time, Jackson, who had proudly served on the Fordham Prep Board of Trustees in the early 90s, joined the board at a new, co-ed junior high school — De La Salle Academy — founded by his old mentor, Bro. Brian Carty. De La Salle’s mission: to serve academically gifted, economically disadvantaged boys and girls in grades six through eight, an extraordinarily important mission in Jackson's eyes.
George A. Jackson died in early 2000, the result of a stroke. He was only 42 years old. He left beind a wife, dancer Yuko Sumida Jackson, and a daughter, Kona Rose.
After Jackson’s death, Carty, his old principal from Monsignor Kelly, together with George’s wife, mother, and siblings, Sharon Jackson and Bobby Stancil, would help found yet another new school on St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan. The George Jackson Academy opened in 2003 to serve boys in grades four through eight from lower-income and underserved families. George Jackson Academy graduates quickly began to make their marks in the world, with members of its first graduating classes going on to attend prestigious high schools such Choate Rosemary Hall, Dalton, Hotchkiss, Phillips Academy Andover, Phillips Exeter Academy, and, of course, the alma mater of their school’s namesake, Fordham Preparatory School.
As George himself wrote for his yearbook quote in the 1976 Ramkin:
Life can be the ultimate trip once you learn how to experience it.