Story by Jodi Anderson • Photos by Joshua Jacobs
Pastor & Entrepreneur Mentors Other Dreamers
Pastor & Entrepreneur Mentors Other Dreamers
John Jackson seems to be perpetually making up for lost time. He was a sickly child—adopted—and spent a lot of lonely hours at his home in Spanish Harlem, a neighborhood in Manhattan. But when he got healthier, he went to school. “I got into sports, which helped me break away from the shyness, having found I was a gifted athlete in different sports—predominantly football.” And from then on, John was never alone.
While John felt like his incredible speed had destined him for the NFL, his years of solitude had prepared him for a much different field. “I think that when you go through enough things in your lifetime and you endure a lot and you know what loneliness is like, you understand depression,” he muses. “You understand rejection. You understand different emotions that happen with people.” Others were always drawn to John. “I had the ability to be a good listener,” he shrugs.
John attended junior college in Connecticut, and that sense of wanting to help people grew stronger. From there, he attended seminary and became an ordained minister. “I celebrated 45 years back in September,” he says humbly. His career has included “a lot of field work, itinerant work, domestic missions, that type of thing. Even shepherded several assemblies.”
Alongside his career in the ministry, John became something of a serial entrepreneur. Beginning with selling jeans out of the trunk of his car as a young man, he would go on to found several businesses, some more successful than others. He loved the process of finding a need and filling it—basic economics. “I enjoyed the idea of seeing things come from nothing to something.”
The cost of living was high in New York and the winters harsh. John began seeing a lot of ads for Florida, and in the early Eighties, he and his first wife moved to South Florida.
A few years later, after his divorce, John was invited by a seminary alumnus to speak at an event in Ocala. At first, he was not impressed with the area. But eventually, he and his second wife—with whom he will be celebrating 30 years of marriage—met some “phenomenal” people and began to see the draw. “Living was easier. When you live a very fast life, which I did, you get to a place where you want calm,” John states. “You want quality of life. We had a child here in 1993. This is a good place to raise children.”
John took a bit of a detour in the early 2010s and became a United Nations (UN) Ambassador-at-Large for the Social and Economical Council during Susan Rice’s tenure as the U.S. Ambassador to the UN. “That was another time of a tremendous eye-opener because of what you get exposed [to]. It broadens your scope, because you see things from a world perspective,” explains John. “We have a tendency to be quite narrow in our lives and our worlds, like the way that I grew up; we thought that everybody lived like that.”
Currently, John owns a franchise of Unishippers, a logistics company that ships small packages to full containers domestically and internationally. An authorized re-seller of UPS services, John takes pride in giving small to medium companies the personal touch. He was not new to logistics when he purchased the business in 2022 and had been studying the trends pre-pandemic, noting that businesses were becoming more home-based and offering more online. John used his people knowledge as a foundation for his business model. “Everything’s about positioning and establishing relationships. That’s why we said, ‘We’re the company that works for you.’”
The former ambassador credits his experience with the UN for giving him a global perspective and “an appreciation for life, for people—for people as a whole—all types of people, because they’re suffering all over the world. Then, you start understanding the forecasts of the future. It gets real serious. It gives you a lot to think about; when you return home, you are grateful.” He says that his experiences left him asking, “Am I part of the problem or am I part of the solution?”
John has always been a problem-solver, and he enjoys helping people solve their own problems. Drawing on his extensive business and financial experience, he joined SCORE Mid-Florida as a mentor in 2022. SCORE has a network of 10,000 volunteers, which supports small business owners. John says he has a unique gift to offer: “I have been the bootstrap guy. I find that a great percentage of people who want to do something are like that. They’re under-capitalized, but they have a dream.” He continues, “I’m able to relate. I like working with people who have a dream, helping them get started—everything from plan all the way through to the executive summary.”
He will always have the heart of a pastor, though. “When you love something, it’s not like work,” John declares. And through this passion, he continues to try to solve problems, reaching out to people in developing parts of the world through missions. “Until you see certain environments, and you hear about certain situations, you don’t believe some of the stories that come at you [are] even possible,” he says. “America, we are so phenomenally blessed.”
Full podcast interview available 12/31/2022