Fight for Life


Former Colts player builds foundation for at-risk youth

As a former member of the Indianapolis Colts, Marlin Jackson is a role model to young kids.

He’s remembered for one of the most famous plays in Colts history: his game-ending interception of a pass from Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. As he fell to the turf and confetti started to rain down, he helped send the Colts to a Super Bowl that they would eventually win.

But growing up, Jackson – now retired and a resident of Carmel – didn’t have anyone like himself to look up to. During his youth in Western Pennsylvania, he had drug dealers and addicts as role models. He’s never met his father and his mother was a crack cocaine addict.

“I remember vividly the build up to Christmas is usually fun for kids, but for me it was a time of uncertainty because you had presents there and then Christmas Eve they were gone because your mom sold them to buy drugs,” he said. “Or my mom would give us $20 allowance from her Welfare check and you would actually feel her take it off you in the middle of the night when you’re asleep.”

New shoes or a new bike went “missing” quite often in Jackson’s household.

“It was hard to hope or believe,” he said. “Every time something good happened, you were always waiting for the other shoe to drop. It really had me in a shell for a long time.”

That’s why after his playing career, Jackson has dedicated himself to his nonprofit foundation, Fight for Life.

He’s instituted a curriculum-based program in a charter school and Indianapolis and he recently met with the superintendent of Carmel schools to discuss adding to a Carmel middle school.

It’s called Building Dreams, and Jackson said it works by incentivizing education using football terms. Kids move five yards on a chart – just like a football team – when they behave or achieve goals. In this program, Jackson said he’s trying to help teach kids how to become in touch with their emotions and self-esteem. He said he’s seen kids break out in tears after having a cathartic breakthrough about a tough time in their life and just letting that out allows these kids to now succeed in other aspects of their education.

Jackson’s foundation also has other programs, such as a football camp, but he said he wanted to try to expand beyond just athletics.

It makes sense, because Jackson himself said his speed or strength isn’t what made his successful. It’s his perseverance. And too many kids lack that tenacity, because they’ve lost hope.

“Some people say, ‘Oh, a nonprofit organization? That’s what you chose to do?’” he said. “Yeah, and I’m going to be successful at it. Just like I never gave up on the field, I’m going to use all of my skills to make sure I can achieve what I set out to do.”

Jackson has expanded his own horizons. For a while he was teaching yoga classes at a studio in Clay Terrace in Carmel. His foundation has worked with yoga advocates who wanted the exercise taught in school. It’s just another example of Jackson. He likes to focus not just on physical health, but mental and emotional health.

For Carmel, Jackson envisions the Building Dreams program could be added to the wellness block before physical education. He said it doesn’t matter if Carmel children don’t have the same disadvantages as inner-city kids, he wants to help everyone.

“This is not just for kids in the trailer parks or the projects,” he said. “The things we do speak to all kids. All kids are underserved in some way. Your needs are not always met. No matter if you live in Carmel or Zionsville or the inner city, we all have needs. My mother, her neglect showed up in her choosing drugs over her kids, but a kid in Carmel, the parents might be choosing work over the kids. So I’ve come to see that we truly can serve all kids. We are trying to get at their hearts and minds to develop them in a healthy way.”

Jackson on the field with the Colts.

Jackson on the field with the Colts.


Specs: 31 years old, 6-feet-tall, 196 pounds

College: University of Michigan, consensus All-American in 2004

NFL: Selected by the Indianapolis Colts with the 29th pick in the 2005 draft. Played cornerback for the Colts until 2009 when he was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles. He was injured in Philadelphia and retired after one year. He was a starter on the victorious Colts team in Super Bowl XLI.

Group of kids that is part of Fight for life in an Indianapolis charter school.

Group of kids that is part of Fight for life in an Indianapolis charter school.


GOAL:  To serve at-risk youth to develop the social and emotional qualities needed to be successful in life.

CORE VALUES: Humility, creativity, perspective and passion

PROGRAMS: Building Dreams, an incentive-based curriculum introduced at Phalen Learning Academy, a charter school in Indianapolis, R.A.P., which stands for Reach out and Access your Peers, a program that uses popular music interpretation to get kids to open up about their feelings, and Seal the Deal, football camps.

EVENTS: Toy drive for kids, Halloween party/fundraiser, field trip for kids from his hometown of Sharon, Penn., football camp, etc.



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