Throughout the 15 years that Marlene Jackson has been a foster parent with Pressley Ridge in Cleveland, she has cared for a number of children with various backgrounds and challenges. In 2015, a young man named King was placed in Ms. Jackson’s home after being taken into protective custody. At just 12 years old, he weighed 487 pounds, could walk only short distances, and was oxygen-dependent.
Marlene was fearful for King’s life, and she was committed to helping him get well. He had the will to become healthy, and within months, King began to lose weight as he ate healthy foods and exercised with a personal trainer the YMCA. “This was a different lifestyle,” said King. “At first I thought my foster mom was mean and strict, but then I realized she was really nice.”
King was also driven to do well in school. Marlene helped him to identify his strengths, which included a talent for writing. “He went from all F’s to A’s after two semesters, and he became a member of the National Honor Society. He had the power and I had the direction.”
Once King realized his academic potential, he aspired to attend Hawken, a college preparatory school in Cleveland. Ms. Jackson did all she could to make it happen and successfully obtained a scholarship from the prestigious school. Today, King is 15 years old and a freshman at Hawken. He is a member of the debate team, which has given him the opportunity to travel to competitions throughout the U.S.
When Marlene was badly injured in a car accident that could have proven fatal, King was understandably shaken and became very protective of her. Fortunately after time, Ms. Jackson has fully recovered and is as vibrant as ever. “I believe that God had another plan for me,” she said. “That plan was King.”
Marlene and King recently celebrated the finalization of his adoption. They continue to grow together as a family and enjoy helping others through their church community. King’s next goal is to get his driver’s license and first car. Ms. Jackson plans to continue fostering to provide children with the opportunity to live a full and healthy life. She believes her primary purpose in life is plain and simple—she just wants to be a mom.
Originally published in May 2018
Since this story was written in 2018, King is now a high school senior who speaks and writes passionately about racial disparities in America. He recently organized an online forum for 160 Ohio teens from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds to discuss how they are thinking, feeling and acting during this momentous time in America.