Nat Jackson was ashamed to tell his story.
But Jackson came to the realization there was no better way to reach Fredericksburg area youth than sharing the trials he endured growing up in Spotsylvania County.
Jackson was a star quarterback at Massaponax High School. He helped lead the Panthers to the 2003 Group AAA, Division 5 state championship game, but was unable to play in the final contest because of an injury.
He went on to play for Virginia Military Institute and earn a bachelor’s degree in business economics and later completed a master’s in special education online through the University of Phoenix.
Jackson is now an algebra functions and data analysis and economics and personal finance teacher at Riverbend High School where he’s also the varsity boys basketball coach.
He’s co-founder of the Fredericksburg Area Basketball Organization, and he helped start a branch of the Inspiring African-American Males mentorship program at Riverbend.
In 2012, he wed 2010 Miss America winner Caressa Cameron–Jackson, and they have one son, Nathaniel III (Tres).
There were times when those accomplishments were all Jackson wanted his mentees to know about him. But now he freely shares that he grew up without his biological mother, who he said was addicted to drugs and died of AIDS in 2010 at age 43.
Jackson said he spent quality time with his mother on only a handful of occasions during his teenage years, even though she was only a few miles away.
“At the time, I resented it a little bit, knowing my mom lived in Fredericksburg and we didn’t have a relationship,” Jackson said. “But the older I got, I realized what drugs are and what they can do to people. After she was diagnosed with AIDS, we started to develop more of a relationship, but time wasn’t on our side. It never got a chance to be manifested, but we did the best we could at that moment.”
Jackson said on the rare occasions he spent with his mother, she’d take him to visit family in Bragg Hill and Hazel Hill and brag about his academic and athletic exploits. He said despite the lack of a strong relationship, he never wanted to let her down.
Cameron–Jackson used AIDS awareness as her Miss America platform, as her uncle also died from the disease.
“It means a lot to both of us,” Jackson said.
On a daily basis, Jackson had support from his father and stepmother. Nathaniel Jackson Sr. worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, but missed only one of his son’s athletic contests in basketball, baseball, football and track and field.
“That was when his car broke down on the way to the game,” Jackson said.
Jackson wants to provide similar encouragement to his son and those in his IAAM program.
The group at Riverbend consists of 20 members and there are academic standards they must attain.
They regularly visit Chancellor Elementary School to provide encouragement for black male students. They’ve constructed Mother’s Day cards together, filled out questionnaires on strengths and weaknesses and attended Riverbend football and baseball games as a group.
Jackson said he never made a conscious decision to become a difference-maker in the community, but it happened naturally after he was laid off from his job in real estate marketing in 2008. He went back to Massaponax to first help out as a football assistant and later as a substitute teacher and freshman basketball coach.
Riverbend athletic director Tim Stimmell said he’s grateful Jackson is with the Bears. He was initially Riverbend’s junior varsity coach, but was promoted to varsity after Eric Davis stepped down in 2016.
“He exemplifies what a coach should be,” Stimmell said. “He cares far more about kids than he does wins and losses. Any time you’re in a conversation with him, he’s always about what’s best for the kids. That’s his primary focus and he’s genuine with that.”
Stimmell allows Jackson to conduct events at the school. Jackson has helped Riverbend partner with the Fredericksburg Grizzlies American Basketball Association team to host its home games. Jackson also holds an annual high school all-star game at Riverbend that is the nightcap of a day filled with youth basketball action.
Jackson founded the Team Action AAU program, but four years ago, he combined with Rick Wright’s Runnin’ Rebels to form FABO. The group provides instruction on the court, in the classroom and in the community to 250 youth.
“The thing that makes me proud to be his business partner and friend is that we’re on the same page with mentoring these student-athletes to be students first, athletes second and to be productive young men in society,” Wright said. “His character is unquestioned. His morals are unquestioned and those are the type of people I want to be around.”
Massaponax graduate Aaron McFarland played for Jackson when he was the Panthers’ freshman team coach before he headed to Riverbend. McFarland is also one of the early members of FABO. He went on to star at Christopher Newport University, where he set a school-record for 3-pointers in a career (267) and games played (117).
The three-time all-conference performer was named Middle Atlantic Region Player of the Year this past season as a senior and is weighing a professional career overseas.
“He made a big difference in my life,” McFarland said. “He’s like a cross between a big brother and a father figure. I think what makes the biggest difference is you can see how pure his heart is. It’s easy to gravitate to someone that doesn’t have anything to hide, will give you life lessons and love you like family.”