Powerful Leaps of Faith
By Brad McEwen
Even though it’s been more than 30 years, and she’s incredibly proud to have served, there’s no denying that when my friend Pamela Green Jackson talks about her brief stint in the Army, there’s a hint of sadness.
“I wanted to go to airborne school,” she told me during a recent Beyond the Bank interview as we sat and talked under a beautiful South Georgia sky. “I wanted to jump out of planes.”
“But, I ended up in bootcamp with shin splints which turned into stress fractures, which unfortunately didn’t heal, so that ended that dream.
“I was crushed because I really wanted to make the Army a career.”
While following her father’s footsteps to be all she could be in the Army didn’t work out like she had hoped, fortunately for the Albany area community, the self-professed tomboy from Baker County never lost her willingness to take leaps of faith—especially if doing so might have a positive impact on others.
Throughout her life and career it seems that Pam—who in addition to being involved with countless area nonprofits and civic organizations, currently serves as the public information officer and community liaison at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany—no matter her role, is always looking for ways to serve and make a difference.
“My mother was always the giving type,” Pam said. “I think that’s where my service, giving, wanting to help others, comes from.”
Pam said she learned a lot about life and what really matters growing up in rural Baker County as the child of two domestic workers, who despite economic challenges, were always looking out for others in the community and always provided she and her siblings with opportunities for a better life.
“My parents, they didn’t receive the educational opportunities that we have now,” Pam explained. “They worked on a farm. My dad farmed by day and was also a chauffeur. My mom worked in the house and they would always tell me though that, ‘this is not what you’re going to do. You either go in the military or you go to college. We didn’t have a choice, but you do.’
“But as hard as they worked, they always found the time, especially my mom, to give back to the community that we lived in.” Pam continued. “She was always cooking and baking cookies and when she cooked food, she’d feed the neighbors. I always saw her doing that kind of stuff.
“That’s just the kind of person she was.”
Of course, while Pam was absorbing and learning about how to be a part of a true community, she was also learning a lot of other valuable lessons from her mom and dad—chiefly, the value of a solid work ethic—something Pam credits with fueling a career journey that’s included her current position at the base, stints with a radio station, Coca-Cola, the IRS, Easter Seals, the state vocational rehab office, working as a lobbyist for the City of Albany and running a non-profit, all while volunteering wherever possible.
“Work ethic,” Pam said. “They had that hard core work ethic. I saw (my mom) go to work and clean other people’s homes, but she also taught us to do the same thing at our house. And my dad was a hard worker as well. He worked until he couldn’t anymore.
“My dad, mom, granddad, all of them, that’s where my work ethic comes from.”
Perhaps just as important as the work ethic and community-focus she learned from her folks, so too was the spiritual path, her mother especially, put her on from an early age.
“She was active in her church,” Pam said of her mother. “She always took us to church. I remember coming home from the military, or even when I went to LPN school in college, I would try to go out with my brother and his friends and we’d come home late because I didn’t have a curfew. (Mom) was like, ‘okay, come in late if you want to, but guess what’s going to happen in the morning though? Eight o’clock comes, get up.’
“I wanted to hang with my brother and his friends, but for mom it was, ‘you’re going to church even though you just got in and you better not fall asleep.’ And every time I would nod, I’d get pinched. That fixed me.”
Not only did her mother’s insistence around going to church keep her active in church at a time when many young folks drift away, Pam also credits her strong faith and connection to the church with being a guiding light and an anchor for her during difficult times.
In fact, that pillar of her character was front and center during one of the most exciting and subsequently challenging times in her life.
Although it’s still sometimes difficult for her to discuss, during our nearly two hour chat Pam shared a remarkable story with me that in many ways sums up the kind of person Pam is and what motivates her to apply that family work ethic to helping others.
In addition to her work with area nonprofits and her undying support of the Albany community, seen through her involvement on the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce Board and membership on various committees, Pam has also been recognized on the national stage for her volunteering efforts.
And the story of that adventure, while filled with sadness, provides a powerful window into a special person.
Pam said it all started with a strange dream—the first in her life she can remember having more than once—that she believes was prophetic.
“This may seem strange to a lot of people,” Pam began. “My pastor, (Bishop) Victor Powell, has always had a way of being prophetic. He said, ‘You have a calling on your life to do great things. And it’s going to get national attention. I need you to go home and pray about what your calling is.’
“Well, one night I had this weird dream. I dreamed that there was a cooler, like a regular cooler that you put ice and drinks in, it’s a huge cooler. And when I opened the door, it was like someone had abandoned a baby. It was weird. The baby was really, I don’t know, it was real chubby, real dirty.”
Not understanding what the dream was about, Pam immediately reached out to a friend of hers, Hortense Jackson, a friend from Atlanta Pam often prays with, to ask her thoughts.
“She said, ‘Something tragic is coming to your life. But God is going to use you to make a difference. And it’s going to have something to do with children,’” Pam continued. “And I’m thinking, ‘now that sounds like the same thing Bishop told me.’ So, I said, ‘I already have a job. I’m not interested in doing anything else. I don’t have that kind of time.’”
Despite those reservations, it would appear that God wasn’t interested in whether or not Pam had time to make a difference in the lives of children.
Not long after the dream, personal tragedy struck and she lost her brother Bernard, whom she had been incredibly close throughout her life.
“Here’s where it gets hairy with my brother,” Pam explained. “I didn’t really realize he was not well.
“He was extremely overweight, so he had all the things that come with that. He never talked much about his health. He had been married, never had any kids, had gotten divorced. And he worked at Cooper Tire.
“Well long story short, my brother started getting sick and I had this dream again,” she continued. “It was the exact same dream. And then my brother died.
“My brother died of obesity-related illnesses. He was 425 pounds. He had diabetes, high blood pressure and everything else that goes with that. My brother had been overweight since he was young.”
Working at the Albany Herald then, and still reeling from the loss of her brother and still trying to wrap her mind around her dream and what her pastor had told her, Pam said that one day “out of the blue,” she received an email that ultimately brought all of those things together and set her on a path that would lead all the way to Washington D.C.
As far as Pam can figure, someone she had met along her journey, who also knew her passion for helping others and making a difference in the world and knew about her brother, gave her name to the right people and God did the rest.
The gist of the email was that she was being offered a chance to take the reins of a new initiative called Georgia on the Move, where she would be “responsible for traveling the state, the whole state, and encouraging people to move, to walk, to eat healthy.”
Although the opportunity would only be a one year contract, meaning she’d be taking a risk leaving her position at the Herald, she couldn’t help but think of the dream and of Bernard.
“Prior to that, my brother had told me too that I was needed to help others so they wouldn’t end up like him,” Pam said as she held back some tears. “I’ll never forget it. He said, ‘I need you to get out there and help others. You know a lot of people, you have the personality and if anybody can do this, you can. I don’t want kids to suffer like I’ve suffered since middle school.’
“As it turns out, I have a couple of friends who are doctors—because this wasn’t my background. I’m prior military. I did sales. I did marketing. But basically, all of the things I had done leading up to that, all the connections I had made at the radio station, the newspaper, all of those would eventually come into play as far as helping me get the word out.”
Pam said she parlayed that support—which came from local folks like Judith Corbett at Merck, Mandell Smith from the county extension office; from people like Dr. Tania Smith and Dr. Cheryl Tolliver, who both reported treating “kids as young as 5 and 6 years-old” for high blood pressure; and others she met through Georgia on the Move—into creating her own nonprofit aimed at children’s health.
“All these different people all come to be critical to me forming this nonprofit called Youth Becoming Healthy,” Pam explained. “I said to these folks, ‘I’ve got this crazy dream and I don’t know how to pull this off, but I’ve talked to all these different people.’
Ultimately, thanks to the support she received from doctors, area business leaders, area volunteers and countless members of the Dougherty School System who allowed YBH to set up exercise equipment on site for the children to use, Pam was able to get Youth Becoming Healthy up and running in area middle schools, where students dealing with body and health issues began learning about proper eating habits and effective exercising.
“By the time it was over, I was in all the middle schools and had started working on the elementary schools,” Pam said. “I had a lot of support.”
In fact, support for the program was so great that word of what was happening in Albany ultimately spread far beyond the confines of Southwest Georgia.
In fairly short order, Pam said she was invited on as a guest to Larry King Live to talk about the initiative, was named a CNN Hero for her efforts and, finally, was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest civilian award in the country.
Looking back on that honor and the subsequent trip she took to Washington to receive the award from then President Barak Obama, Pam said it was one of the most exciting experiences of her life.
“It was an amazing trip,” she said. “It was amazing to see the other people in that group who were honored for the work that they did in their communities. “And the fact that I was able to honor my brother in that way was incredible. And it all started with a dream.”
Sadly, while Pam said she feels Youth Becoming Healthy was a success, and in many aspects ahead of its time in terms of recognizing the importance of encouraging healthy young people, the organization is not currently active.
One of the things that made Youth Becoming Healthy such an important aspect of Pam’s life, aside from it honoring her brother’s memory, was the involvement of her husband, who went so far as to earn certifications as a youth fitness trainer.
Pam explained that as her other work duties continued to accumulate, her husband really became the one running the actual program and engaging with the youth who were working to lose weight and get healthy.
“And then four years ago, we lost one of our first students,” Pam said. “We lost him the same way we lost my brother. Malik was just 21 years old.
“You see, once they graduated from high school and went home, we couldn’t manage their fitness and tell them what to eat and all this other stuff. So, when he graduated from high school, he went home and was on the couch. He gained over 400 pounds and we lost him.
“My husband decided he was not working with another kid because our goal was to save them. He snatched his fitness certification off the wall and said, ‘I’m done.’
“So that was the end of YBH in that form. The program sunset four years ago and we transitioned. We decided to take whatever money we had left over and donate it to Albany State for a Malik Thomas Scholarship fund.
“Malik was like family.”
Pam said she still maintains the organization’s nonprofit status and continues to pay the yearly fees to keep it active with the IRS, just in case she and her husband are able to revive it in a new form.
Despite the dormancy of YBH, however, Pam still has plenty to keep her busy with her continued roles with the Chamber of Commerce (including serving as Chair of Chamber Allies) and with her dual role at the base, where she serves as Community Plans and Liaison Officer and Base Public Affairs Officer with the Communication Strategy and Operations Office at MCLB Albany.
“I find it interesting that with the Marine Corps, one of their primary focuses is on community engagement and community outreach,” Pam said. “There’s a heavy focus on community outreach and engagement in government, external affairs, so I’ve come full circle if you will. Working with the Marines is phenomenal and coming from an Army girl, they’re a great bunch to work with.
“It’s taken all of these experiences, from the radio station and sales, to the Herald, to running a nonprofit organization, working at the base, that have brought me to where I am.”
And where Pam is, is in a position to make life better for others and build a stronger community.
Or as she told me, she’s in a place where she wants, “to do better, to be better, to help the next person to become better.”
“I’m always trying to mentor others,” she continued. “All of these different experiences I’ve had in my life have made me the person I am now and I’m always trying to encourage others to get out of bad situations, to improve themselves, so they can take care of themselves and not depend on another person. To always find a way to give back, whatever capacity that’s in. Find your passion, whatever that passion is.
“And for me, it’s reaching back and helping the next person. Because it could have gone any one of different ways for me. But I had people in my corner that saw my value and saw my worth and they encouraged me.”
As a person whose life has been touched by Pam’s infectious spirit and her positive outlook, I for one can say with certainty this community truly is blessed to have someone like Pamela Green-Jackson working tirelessly to build a better tomorrow.
Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - firstname.lastname@example.org - @BradGMcEwen