south detroit

Difference Maker

Born and raised in one of the toughest areas of South Detroit, Dante Jackson managed to not only graduate from high school but he made it to the ripe old age of nineteen with no criminal record. In an area where the dropout rate was once 75% and the likelihood of going to prison or college is almost equal, these were remarkable feats.

Dante credits his early success to his grandmother who raised him. She often told him—and anyone else who would listen—that he “was a good boy, a real good boy.” He tried hard to never let her down. She was the only family he’d ever known. His mother died of a drug overdose before he could walk and like many children born into extreme poverty, he never knew his father.

Dante’s life went awry in a series of heinous crimes that began with the rape of his girlfriend by her mother’s live-in boyfriend. Her mother refused to believe her and when the police didn’t either, Dante took matters into his own hands. He pounded on the door of her house. He could see the boyfriend passed out on the couch, a burned-down cigarette hanging from his limp fingers but despite Dante’s best efforts, he could not wake the man. So he left, determined to return another time to set things straight.

Later that night, police showed up at his grandmother’s apartment and arrested Dante for arson. His girlfriend’s house had burned to the ground, killing the boyfriend. More than one neighbor had seen Dante at the home earlier. Motive, means, wrong place, wrong time. Dante was convicted and sentenced to ten to twenty years in Michigan's Jackson Penitentiary.

His girlfriend visited him once in prison but the shame in her eyes was too much to bear and Dante sent her away. She deserved a better life. Unlike him, she had a future and it didn’t include waiting on a man behind bars.

Prison was a merciless place. No one cared that he was innocent. But the one invaluable gift that prison granted him was time. For Dante, it was a period of divine preparation. While incarcerated, he looked beyond his own predicament and earned two college degrees—the highest a master’s in divinity—and helped other men in prison who sought personal transformation. Paroled after eight years, he went on to get a special dispensation from the State of Michigan to teach in the Detroit Public Schools.

Today, he’s a fifth-grade teacher at Harrison Howe Elementary School, located in one of the toughest districts in the state, on Detroit’s south side. He plays basketball at the local Boys and Girls Club and on Sunday nights he leads a growing youth ministry at New Heights Baptist Church. As a teacher, youth leader and mentor, he shows young people that a better life—a Christ-centered life—is within their reach and instructs them on how to make it happen.

From the frontlines, where violence, sex, and drugs are a part of life, Dante Jackson takes an active stance against the depredations of poverty. Determined to be a difference maker, he’s devoted his life to breaking the poverty-to-prison pipeline.

Have you touched anyone lately?