WSU senior's foundation gains some ground

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(Photo by Tyler Brown) (Left to right) Carlos Emjay, Jenny Shaw and Amir Jackson sit in the new Nurture the Creative Mind office and discuss their upcoming Starving for Education event. As part of Starving for Education, Nurture the Creative Mind members will go on a hunger strike until they’ve raised $3,500 for the organization.

Nurture the Creative Mind, an Ogden-area nonprofit organization aimed at teaching art and expression to youth, is gaining ground in Ogden — in more than one sense.

The organization just received funding for and opened up a physical space on the south end of Ogden’s Union Station, focusing on teaching youth creative writing, visual arts like photography and painting, radio and written journalism, and videography.

In addition, the organization will hold a fundraiser on Friday, “Starving for Education,” at which Nurture the Creative Mind members will go on a hunger strike until they raise $3,500 for their organization. This event will begin at Grounds for Coffee on 30th St. in Ogden and will continue until they’ve raised the money.

Amir Jackson, a Weber State University senior studying psychology, founded the organization and has poured himself into it through the ups and the downs. Jackson’s last estimate put the organization at having worked with around 6,000 youth over its history.

Jackson might have been an unlikely man to start such an organization. Originally from Rochester, N.Y., Jackson said he never had any interest in art or creativity as a high school student.

“I played football, basketball, and ran track,” he said. “I had kind of a normal adolescent, alpha-male mentality, you know?”

But his mentality toward art and creativity changed shortly after high school.

“There was a point in time in my life when it was kind of . . . it was hectic,” Jackson said. He said a rough situation came up with his stepfather and that he was treated aggressively. As a result, he went to live with his grandmother, and in that time, he began writing down his feelings.

“I didn’t know what to call them. I didn’t call them poems or whatever; it was just me writing down my feelings.”

Jackson showed his writing to his aunt, and she encouraged him to continue and expand that connection to writing.

Jackson then joined the Air Force at 19, which brought him to Utah. After serving in the military for six years, Jackson said he kicked around a bit, taking cross-country trips, visiting home in New York and working various jobs, including with TSA and as a bartender. He then began school at WSU.

The foundation got its start as happenstance, Jackson said. He was working part-time at an elementary school as a staff assistant for special education. He asked some of the teachers at the school if he could teach a poetry section to their students.

“I asked about eight, nine teachers maybe, and only one of them agreed to it. I ended up teaching that class, and that really became the foundation for Nurture the Creative Mind.”

Jackson gave those first students an assignment to write just one poem per week, but many of them came up to him throughout the week with four or five poems.

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(Source: Amir Jackson) Amir Jackson paints Nurture the Creative Mind themes on pianos with youth for his program. This piano is one of many distributed throughout downtown Ogden for anyone to play or admire.

“I felt like there were a lot of kids around me in that school that had similar stories to mine,” said Jackson, referencing the situation with his stepfather. “I wanted to give them the outlet to express themselves, and then positively reinforce them so that they could feel valuable. It’s interesting. It’s kind of a beautiful thing that came out of a really terrible situation, you know?”

Jackson wanted the community to support his students and their artistic endeavors. He put on a poetry session at a cafe, and about 200 people came out to see the children read their poems.

“It was quite the thing for them to see people that they didn’t know come out to support them,” Jackson said. “After that, I was like, ‘We got to do this more.’”

His foundation snowballed from there. Jackson went from one class to two classes, and then beyond.

“Something changed in my mind. I stopped looking at how many kids I had worked with, and started looking at how many kids I hadn’t. That’s when I decided I needed to make this something more of a movement, or form an organization — something that could be done on a grand scale. I wanted to work with as many kids as possible, and reach and impact as many kids as possible. That became my purpose, you know?”

His foundation began working with the juvenile justice system, women’s centers and school districts.

“Wherever there was kids, I was willing to go,” Jackson said.

And now, with its space, youth can come to him. Having a space for the foundation is an upside, Jackson said. Previously, Nurture the Creative Mind has been a fairly mobile organization, but this allows it a residence, and it’s able to be a sort of fixture for community members.

“It makes the organization concrete for people in the community,” Jackson said. “Like, if you want to be a part of Nurture the Creative Mind, you can register with our organization. We’re going to be meeting Monday through Friday from 3 o’clock to 7 o’clock; these are the classes that we offer. It’s so much more concrete, it’s so much more clear, and I think it’s more tangible for people.”

He said he thinks the new location is perfect too. It’s near the FrontRunner station, for those who might not have transportation, in the heart of Ogden, and it helps connect youth with the history of the Union Station and Ogden City itself.

Carlos Emjay is the in-house graphic designer for Nurture the Creative Mind, self-described jack-of-all-things-needed. He’s worked with Jackson for about two years.

“There’s nothing quite like it,” Emjay said. “There isn’t another organization that really impacts, where you see a visual impact on the streets. You see it within the youth.”

Emjay said working for the organization has been a good experience for him, and he thinks it’s doing great things.

“The work has spoken for itself in terms of what we’re about, and the fact that we have a physical space now is only going to materialize these things that we do a bit more effectively,” he said.

The foundation works with youth from all walks of life. Jackson said he certainly didn’t want his organization focusing on a specific demographic.

“We don’t work with underprivileged kids. We don’t work with overprivileged kids. We don’t work with Latino kids, or black kids. We work with youth. Period.”

The organization is aimed at working with all possible varieties of youth because it promotes interaction and friendship between different groups and demographics.

“One of our mottos or taglines is ‘nurture the youth, nurture the future,’” Jackson said. “I think that says it all.”

Jackson said the new space is just another step; he has many aspirations for his group, including a youth-created biweekly radio show on WSU’s 88.1, a magazine highlighting his students’ artwork and creative writing, a youth-created television program, and even a youth film festival for Ogden next year.

“My vision of Nurture the Creative Mind is not confined to Ogden. It’s not confined to the state. I would like Nurture the Creative Mind to become a national organization, or at least . . . a national template for education.”

Support opportunities and more information on Nurture the Creative Mind are available at