By: Joanie Cox-Henry Contributing Writer
Jackson Destine is a survivor. Overcoming impossible odds since childhood, the 17-year-old senior at Atlantic High School was selected among a pool of top students from
more than 30,000 schools around the country, as a national winner of Wendy’s High School Heisman Scholarship. Destine, who was chosen along with Soleil Gaylord of Colorado, took home a $10,000 college scholarship.
Growing up in Delray, Destine admits he started selling drugs by the age of five.
“I didn’t have a mother or father figure. I just had my grandma. My uncles were getting drunk everyday and eventually became homeless. Later, I got kicked out of middle school.”
Although his future looked bleak, Destine said his grandma encouraged him to focus on his education to elevate him from his situation.
“I found my positive role models at school,” Jackson said. “In seventh grade, I really started to focus more on my grades and I got involved with playing sports.”
By the time Destine reached high school, he was wrestling, playing football and running track and field. He became class president, his grades shot up to a perfect 4.0 GPA and in August, he wowed the crowd at a Delray Beach city commission meeting when he broke into a rap about inequality in the local community. He even started his own clothing line which is a lifestyle brand with inspirational messages.
“At the city commission meeting, I rapped about giving the kids a place to play football instead of a corner to sell drugs,” said Destine, who also does spoken word poetry. “Unity can make a better Delray. Opportunity can make a better Delray.”
Destine has also lent his time performing at community events and helping to empower other at-Risk youth at Milagro Center. “I go there every Thursday and Friday to teach the kids how to make lyrics,” Destine said. “I always tell them don’t be just like me; be better than me.”
At Atlantic Community High School, teacher Nicki Loulis, made a significant impact on his life. “Ms. Loulis taught me a lot. She teaches me something every day,” Destine said. “She can relate to me. She always tells me there’s this big world out there and I need to discover it for myself.”
When it came time to make the trip to New York City for the Wendy’s High School Heisman Scholarship Awards, Destine knew he wanted Loulis to join him on the journey alongside his grandmother and several other family members in New York City Dec. 7-10. “I’m very proud of Jackson,” Loulis said. “We do a lot together. He puts in a lot of extra hours. Everybody knows Jackson. He’s done a lot for the Delray community.”
On the trip, Destine, who had not previously ventured beyond Palm Beach County, saw snow for the first time. He ice skated in Rockefeller Center and the New York City that only existed for him in “Rush Hour” movies and dreams suddenly became his reality.
“This trip truly changed my life,” Destine said. “I was amazed at the energy of New York—how at 3 a.m., everything is still going. It’s truly the city that never sleeps. We stayed on the 40th floor of the Marriott overlooking Times Square. Every moment was amazing.”
But even on his trip, Destine still couldn’t resist giving back to someone less fortunate. Concerned with the many homeless Destine saw on the streets on New York shivering in the cold, when Destine and Loulis couldn’t finish their large meals as Junior’s Restaurant and Bakery, they boxed up their leftovers to share with some homeless people they met outside the restaurant.
After visiting New York landmarks such as Central Park, Battery Park and the 9/11 memorial museum, Destine also felt blessed to take in a show seeing the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
Since winning the Heisman award, Destine insists the award is not just for him, but he wants to share it with all of Delray.
“Some people from my community think success if not for us,” Destine said. “I know now that it’s not about where you come from, it’s where you’re going. If you want to chase your dreams, you need to be a positive person and I’m thankful God gave me this opportunity.”
Destine’s goal is to ultimately change the world. “I want to show others who come from similar situations to mine that you can stay motivated and achieve things you never thought were possible. I don’t like the word ‘hood’ because I think it’s really cliche. We can make it out of there and be whoever we want to be.”