Juma Jackson (J. Neal Jackson), an Asheville entrepreneur known for his passion for community, died in Greensboro on June 8. Jackson, who suffered from bone cancer, was 38.
A memorial luncheon will be held beginning at 12:30 p.m. Monday at Limones restaurant on Eagle Street. Attendees will share stories about Jackson. Lunch will be served and donations will be accepted to benefit Jackson’s children.
Jackson grew up in a crowded apartment in a Greensboro public housing project. Tall and outgoing, he went on to stand out in athletic and social circles at one of Greensboro’s highest-profile public schools. He was elected student body president at Page High School in Greensboro, according to an Urban News profile.
Basketball was long a passion for Jackson, who went on to play NCAA Division 1 basketball at the University of California-Irvine, where he was a starter. (Jackson earned all-rookie honors in the Big West, averaging 9.8 ppg as a freshman.) As a 6-4 junior transfer, Jackson arrived on scholarship to play for the men’s squad at UNC Asheville. He graduated in 2001 with a psychology degree.
After college, it was business and entrepreneurship that most entranced Jackson. He opened Eagle’s Market Convenience Store in downtown Asheville in 2006. Located on Eagle Street in the heart of the city’s historic African-American business district known as “The Block,” Jackson relished the role of entrepreneur. He was known as an excellent listener and informal advisor to his many customers.
Jackson used his experience with the convenience store as his thesis for finalizing his master’s degree in entrepreneurship from Western Carolina University. During his time in Asheville, Jackson also became a licensed real estate broker.
“He believed in working, not looking for a job,” said Thomas Joyce, owner of Smooth’s Do Drop In barber shop on Eagle Street.
“It was great for me to see a young man opening up a business and coming into the area and becoming a businessman and politician and learning the ins and outs,” Joyce said. “I feel very sorry that God called him at a young age, but he had a very bright future. God bless him and his family.”
Jackson sought out other ways to get involved with his community. He volunteered his time serving on the city’s Transit Commission and Board of Adjustment, as well as a local business association. In 2009, he launched a campaign for Asheville City Council.
“He just wanted to serve people,” said Asheville attorney Eugene Ellison. As Jackson’s mentor and friend, Ellison urged Jackson to pursue his education. Jackson worked for Ellison for several years.
Jackson sold his business in 2010 and recently entered Elon University Law School. Though his time was short there, he made an impression, according to Luke Bierman, dean and professor of law at Elon Law.
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I write this evening to inform you of the death of Juma Jackson, a 1L who came to Elon Law motivated by a desire to help other people and, in his own words, ‘be a voice for the voiceless,'” Bierman wrote in an email to the campus community.
“Though Juma’s time at Elon Law was short, he made a profound impact on those who knew him. He led a life of service to others and saw the law as a vehicle for social change. He also wanted to set an example for his children by using his legal education to confront injustice in all its forms. Juma embodied the finest qualities of an Elon Law student.”
It was Jackson’s way with family and friends that forged the most heart-felt connections. Soce Ahmed, owner of Soce’s Afro-American Hair Braiding on Eagle Street, said he “was like a father to my kids.”
When Ahmed had a problem with her daughter, Jackson and his wife took her in for a year, said Ahmed, a single mom.
“He was very young, but there was an old soul inside him. He was a father to everyone,” Ahmed said. “We pray for him and his wife and children. We’re going to miss him.”
Barron Kincaid, who lived with Jackson before he had children and moved to Greensboro, described Jackson as a brother who would offer his help however he could. “He said, ‘I got you.’ I’ll never forget that.”
“He would talk about his mother and grandmother and about how he wanted his daughter to have that kind of relationship” with her elders, Kincaid added. That desire helped push him to return to Greensboro, Kincaid said.
Jackson is survived by his wife, Angelique Louise Emile; five children: Haliee Wright, Alyssa Cassada, Lilliana Emile, Kaimi Jackson and Juma “JT” Jackson; his mother, Delores Jackson; and father, David Twyman; sister Crystal Jackson; grandmother Alease Jackson; and extended family.
Very nice tribute. He passed far, far too young.