On October 19th, IGNITE’s Real Talks event presented students with two speakers, one of which was mental health advocate, Brryan Jackson.

We had the opportunity to chat with him after his talk. Here’s what we learned:

At what age did you become aware of the fact that it was your father who was responsible for what happened to you?

There were different stages. I always knew my dad did something wrong, and I always knew I was sick, but I didn’t know what I was sick with. I knew I was so sick that there was the chance of me dying. I went to a camp when I was 13, and it was around that age when I kind of started having a lot of different views about life. That’s when I started learning about HIV and when I started having conversation with my mom about what happened, so I figured out, “Oh, this is what my dad did to me.”

That’s also when I started sharing my story and really getting out there to educate people about what HIV and AIDS is. I mostly did it for a girl named Sue who was at the same camp that I was at. I had found her in the corner crying, and she was saying, “I can’t speak, I can’t do it, life is just so hard for me right now.” So I wiped the tears away from her eyes and I said, “Sue, until you can find your own voice, I will be a voice for you,” and that’s why I’ve started speaking.

Brryan Jackson, Real Talks Speaker

I also read that you experienced a lot of bullying prior to going to the camp and throughout your childhood, can you tell me a little bit about that?

During my childhood I wasn’t allowed to go to school. They tried to get my mom to home school me and put me in the “home-bound” program, which is when a teacher comes to visit you and for every day of school you miss you can make it up in an hour, which at the end of the day I’m like “oh man, why didn’t I?” But I just wanted to be the so-called “normal.” I just wanted to go to school and have friends.

It wasn’t just the school district, it was also the parents saying, “Let’s not invite him to the birthday parties,” and, “He can only come to school for half a day, and he can’t come to any of the events.” Along the way as my peers and I got older, they started to understand why their parents were saying all those things and it kind of transferred down to them. They’d run away from me, call me names, and eventually it got physical to the point where I was getting jumped weekly. I was viewed as a problem child, so I was the one who always got suspended and expelled from school because they’d say, “If you just weren’t here then there wouldn’t be any problems.” So I had to learn how to fight back and I just came to a place where I realized that the best thing to do was to ignore those people and keep my mind on the people who matter.

Sometimes life has a funny way of weeding out the people who don’t matter. And I still experience indirect bullying, I wouldn’t call it bullying necessarily, or maybe I’m just not aware of it, but there has been experiences like girlfriends that I’ve wanted to date and their parents would say ,”No, you can’t.” One parent even went to the extent to say, “You’re killing my daughter.”
Brryan Jackson, Real Talks Speaker

What do you think that school systems, as well as parents, need to focus on to create a better environment for kids in order to prevent bullying?

The number one thing I think needs to happen is to just start having a conversation. The more we avoid topics in life, the more we create fear. In my house growing up topics like sex and HIV weren’t a taboo topic, we spoke openly about these things. But there were times when I would go to a friend’s and say something about one of these topics and their parents would be flipping out.

Creating these taboo topics creates more fear and just results in ignorance. So if you can be the one to start a conversation, then we can have that conversation that leads to education. No matter what topic it is, I believe that ignorance is a weapon of mass destruction and the only cure is education. Whether it’s about HIV or mental health, it always seems easier to banish the beast rather than fight the beast. You can’t let that fear keep you from living life and having conversations.

With all that being said, as long as we’re citizens living in this world, these issues are everybody’s problem. That means that my problem isn’t just HIV/AIDS or mental health, my problems go on to include cancer, poverty and other world issues. I want to be in that with everybody and invested in that to the point where I say, “Hey, I know it doesn’t affect me directly, but it is my problem because you live in this world and you matter.”

Regarding mental health, it has become a more widely discussed topic in recent years, but what would you say to someone who’s experiencing depression and truly feeling that they have no way out?

I would encourage them to do an exercise. Some days suffering from depression means that it’s a battle to just get out of bed. Some days I feel like I’m physically climbing a rope to get myself out of bed. But eventually I make it to the mirror, and I make sure I place my hand over my heart and I feel my heart beating, and I look at myself and say, “Remember, that’s purpose. What are we going to do today? What are we going to do in this world today? How are we going to make it through today?”

Sometimes in life it is going to feel like you’re alone, but when you’re alone, you are the person who can give you the most positive influence, and that’s what it’s going to take.
Brryan Jackson, Real Talks Speaker, taking questions

You ask the question to people, “Who do you dare to become?” You’ve already done so much to inspire others, but what are your future goals and plans in your life? What more do you hope to accomplish, in addition to what you’ve already done?

Daily I dare myself to be adventurous, whether it’s travelling, meeting new people, or doing something out of my comfort zone. This summer I went to Los Angeles and participated in a film piece and it was my first time acting and that was fun. I also free-scaled a 100-foot rock in the desert and it’s like, that’s the beauty of life, trying new things. There’s a lot of things I look forward to, I would also love to get into politics and be as cool as your Canadian JT- Justin Trudeau. Ultimately I want to dare myself to live life to the fullest, while also continuing to help and inspire people.

If there’s one thing that can be taken away from Brryan Jackson’s story, it’s that no matter what you’re going through, there’s always hope. Here at IGNITE, we strive to help students and we hope you enjoyed listening to Brryan’s incredible story.