For Ortavia Jackson, Joy is her middle name. Literally. And she works hard in her efforts to spread child-like joy to Bayonne residents young and old alike.
Jackson has lived in Bayonne for the past three years, after moving from Brooklyn. She was first introduced to the city through her work as a nuclear medicine technician over a decade ago.
As a traveling technician, Jackson was assigned to work at Bayonne Medical Center in 2005. During her six month assignment, she met “a lot of great people” in Bayonne, including her future business partner, Shawnda Jacobs.
In addition, a lot of people started to get wind of her poetry, Jackson said. Both an author and a poet, she began writing and performing poems in Bayonne and the surrounding area, even for Assemblywoman Angela McKnight.
In 2005, she self-published a book of her poetry entitled “Divine Destiny Through a Journey Called Life.” Her second work entitled “Life By Wisdom; Poetry for Your Mind, Body, and Soul” was published by Tate Publishing in 2009. In 2013, Jackson founded Life By Wisdom, dedicated to sharing her poetry and philosophy.
Also in 2013, Jackson became the vice president of the nonprofit organization the Mo’Hair Foundation. The organization helps men, women, and children who suffer from hair loss due to various medical conditions by providing free non-surgical hair replacements.
Meanwhile, Jackson has been a mentor for young people for many years. She mentors youth from the Bronx and Brooklyn as well as New Jersey. Jackson still works in the medical field as an imaging manager at hospitals in Brooklyn, continuing her work at the Mo’Hair Foundation and writing poetry.
However, she also now owns a business dedicated to her passion: spreading joy.
Joy Full Zone
In September of 2019, Jackson and Jacobs founded Joy Full Zone, inspired by Jackson’s life thus far and her interaction with young people. Although Jackson does not have a child herself, she has been deeply impacted by the young people she interacts with constantly as a mentor.
Joy Full Zone was started because Jackson felt that children and adults alike were socially disconnected amid the current abundance of technology. Jackson and Jacobs share a love of games and ultimately decided the best approach to facilitate meaningful conversations between people was through the use of games. They set out to create a space to connect young people and adults through real conversations and to “just put their phones down and open their eyes.”
“The goal is to unite our youth and adults alike in the city of Bayonne and beyond,” Jackson said.
Although Joy Full Zone has plenty of opportunities for adults, interacting with the youth is a major component, according to Jackson. She handles the youth side of events and programs while Jacobs is in charge of the adult side.
“I believe its important for all of us to take a look at the child side of us,” Jackson said. “We still have it we just never tap into it. Why not enjoy the youth while we have it and then when you go into adulthood, still remain a youthful person.”
Jackson also teaches workshops to show the similarities between life and games. She compared life to a game of Connect Four, where life needs are represented by the four dots needed to connect to win.
In Jackson’s metaphor, in order to succeed, you will need to connect the four dots in real life, whatever they may represent. And just like in the game, people in life will block those four dots from connecting. Jackson said it’s about realizing those obstacles exist, overcoming the challenge and connecting the dots, thus winning in a way.
Joy Full Zone owns a number of games that they use to hold events from volleyball to ping pong and “any board game you can think of” such as Jenga and even Connect Four. The games can be rented and delivered to events across the city. In the past, Joy Full Zone has worked with corporations on team building exercises and even baby showers where they created custom games for the event.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the virus put a damper on the events held by Joy Full Zone. Indoor event were a no-go and most events were limited to outdoors. That got the ball rolling on Joy Full Zone Sports, Jackson said.
“Sports is a great outlet and discipline for young people to learn about life,” Jackson said. “It teaches them that we need to be able to get over that bridge of understanding, whatever we are doing.”
Jackson explains that through sports, board games and or face-to-face conversation, young people come to understand each other better and thus cross the “bridge of understanding.”
The events also work to help adults do that as well. Conversation during games gets people off their phones, playing games and communicating, and thus understanding each other better.
Currently, Joy Full Zone Sports is only hosting Flag Football events but Jackson said they plan to branch out into other sports. For more information, go to JoyFullZone.com
Joy Full Zone is still fairly new, and Jackson said that she has been recruiting young volunteers to help out with events. She looks to get youth involved to help them with their careers later in life.
“We want to build their confidence in working and being in the real world, knowing how to conduct themselves and teaching them what real customers service is,” Jackson said.
Once the Joy Full Zone opens up a brick and mortar location, her next goal is to hire a majority of young people, 16 and up.
“Words have power and the more you speak it into a young or older person to stay joyful regardless of what the situation is, there is going to be some good that comes out of it,” Jackson said.
Spreading joy amongst all residents, young and old alike, also plays into Jackson’s activism. In June of last year, her and Jacobs led a protest calling for then-Board of Education Trustee Michael Alonso to resign after his comments about protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd that many viewed as racist.
Jackson said her involvement in the local community continues steadfast. She always wants to listen to the youth to make sure their voices are heard and any issues are addressed.
That’s why Jackson also joined the local branch of the NAACP. She was nominated and ran for president in the recent January election, but lost by a narrow margin. However, that hasn’t discouraged her from being an active member.
“It doesn’t stop me from still being involved and bringing in more youth,” Jackson said of her activity in the NAACP. “At the end of the day, we need youth involvement.”
Jackson also hopes to garner more involvement from people of color when it comes to voting.
“Voting to me is very important and I feel like not enough people, especially African American people, are going out to vote,” Jackson said. “I want to be able to make some sort of a difference even if it’s the smallest difference that can be made. I want to be involved in it.”
Coming full circle
While Jackson did not win the NAACP election, she was nominated and appointed to the Rent Control Board. At the City Council’s February meeting, Jackson’s appointment to the board by Mayor James Davis was approved by the City Council.
Jackson is thankful for the opportunity to work toward change. But for her, it’s not about titles. Even when Jackson performs her poetry, she doesn’t like performing in front of people or being in the spotlight. For her, it’s about getting involved.
According to Jackson, it’s one thing to say something but it’s another thing to get up and actually do something. She hopes to embody the change she desires in the community.
“I’m a great listener, great observer and I want what’s best for the people as a whole,” Jackson said.
Jackson also said there’s power in representation too. She is filling Dave “Doc” Watson’s old seat on the Rent Control Board.
In a way, her activism has come full circle. Jackson is replacing Watson who won a seat on the school board by beating the trustee she protested against; an African-American trustee replaced a trustee accused of racism after Jackson led calls for his resignation.
“I’m passionate about our young people,” Jackson said. “I am passionate about anything I am a part of.”
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com.