Jackie Joyner-Kersee (JJK) is a legendary American Olympian and is considered one of the greatest athletes of all time. However, her impact extends beyond her success on the track, as she has also dedicated her life to giving back to her hometown through the creation of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation.

The foundation was established in 1988, with the mission of providing educational and athletic opportunities for the children of East St. Louis, Illinois. Jackie, who grew up in East St. Louis herself, saw firsthand the challenges that children in the area faced and knew that she wanted to make a difference.

At 18 years old, her mother unexpectedly got sick. Jackie rushed home to East St. Louis from UCLA, where she was studying at the time, to be by her mother’s side. By the time she had gotten to the hospital, her mother’s condition had deteriorated, and Jackie had to make the crushing decision to take her mother off her ventilator.

After losing her mother, Jackie wanted to be uplifted and was looking for a place to go. She ended up at the Mary E. Brown Center. As a child, Jackie used to come through the center — she would go to the library, work with the Meals on Wheels program, learn African dance, and was an active member in a girl’s group. It was here that Jackie was first introduced to sports.

“I think growing up in a community and not having a lot — I had the Mary E. Brown Center and that made a difference in my life.”

For Jackie the center was home, she was fed there, found community there, and discovered her passion and purpose.

Dealing with unimaginable grief, Jackie made another choice, to pour back into her community. Jackie decided that she didn’t need a building to help people and she wanted to start her own community center. At just 18 years of age.

The JJK Foundation

The foundation’s programs are designed to address some of the most pressing needs in the community, including education, health and wellness, and community development. The foundation’s facilities — the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center, officially opened in 2000. The JJK Center provides after-school programs for young people in the area and offers academic support, athletic training, and leadership development to help children succeed both on and off the field.

[left to right] Al Joyner - track and field Olympian and brother to JJK, track and field Olympian and foundation founder - Jackie Joyner Kersee, Director of adidas NAM DE&I – Benjamin Lee, President of adidas NAM – Rupert Campbell during adidas NAM’s visit to the JJK Center in East St. Louis.
[left to right] Al Joyner - track and field Olympian and brother to JJK, track and field Olympian and foundation founder - Jackie Joyner Kersee, Director of adidas NAM DE&I – Benjamin Lee, President of adidas NAM – Rupert Campbell during adidas NAM’s visit to the JJK Center in East St. Louis.

In addition to the center, the foundation also offers a range of other programs and initiatives for entire families.

One of the key strengths of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation is its emphasis on the holistic approach. The foundation recognizes that children’s success is not just about academic achievement or athletic ability, but also about their social and emotional well-being, and a sense of connection to their community.

For more than 7 years, the foundation has offered financial literacy programs for parents. The foundation has also partnered with a local bank to help parents start college funds for their kids.

Another important arm of the foundation is food. East St. Louis is in a food desert. The foundation collaborates with the University of Illinois Extension and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center to teach students about agriculture. Connecting knowledge about food and financial literacy programs, by learning about entrepreneurship, personal finance, and more.

By providing a range of programs and services, the foundation can support families in all aspects of their lives, helping them to build strong foundations for their future.

Aligned in Values

In addition to the work of the JJK Foundation, Jackie Joyner-Kersee has also shared her principles for success with the world. These 14 principles, which she developed throughout her career as an athlete and a philanthropist, are detailed in her autobiography — A Kind of Grace.

Confidence, Courage, Risk-Taking, Critical Thinking, Determination & Grit, Desire, Dedication, Commitment & Hard Work, Goals, Passion, Self-Respect, Service, Values and Wellness.  

The 14 principles that serve as the foundation of Jackie’s curriculum are strongly aligned with our values at adidas, which in turn are closely tied to our culture. At adidas, we believe that shared values make a difference, through courage, ownership, innovation, teamplay, integrity and respect.  

Jackie uses her principles as the foundation of her ‘Winning in Life Curriculum’. The youth development program can be offered in school, after school, or during sports. Winning in Life consists of four developmentally appropriate curriculum guides for youth ages 4 to 18, including a curriculum for college student-athletes. Jackie is driven to give young people access to the kinds of opportunities she had so that they too can be winners in life, with a culture of respect as its backbone.

Jackie firmly believes that the alignment and harmony of shared values increases overall success and fulfillment in an organization and that it also helps to drive decision-making based on clear and common ground. It’s an essential part of forging strong partnerships.  

A wall mural in honor of Jackie’s legacy.
This mural lays on the exterior of the JJK Center today but in 2021, a team from adidas NAM traveled to East St. Louis to donate $65,000 towards community programs and dedicate the mural in honor of Jackie’s legacy.

Changing the lives of others

Another important aspect of the foundation’s work is its focus on empowering young people to become leaders in their communities. Jackie herself is a powerful role model, and her commitment to service has inspired countless young people to give back to their communities.

Through programs like the ‘JJK Empowerment Weekend’ and the leadership development programs offered at the center, the foundation is helping to create a new generation of leaders who are committed to making a positive difference in the world.  

However, Jackie is clear that real change cannot come from intention alone. ”We can have the greatest intention in the world, but we can’t move anything with intention alone,” she explains.

Over the years, the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation has made a significant impact on the community of East St. Louis. The center has served thousands of young people, providing them with the resources and support they need to succeed in school and in life. The foundation’s focus on community development has also helped to revitalize the area, creating new opportunities for families and businesses.  

Jackie is on the ground every day. Whenever she isn’t traveling, she’s here at the JJK Center. When it comes to the kids, Jackie believes in meeting them where they are, which is why she believes she must stay in the community she serves to provide hope and inspiration.  

Jackie’s story is a powerful reminder that no matter where you come from or what challenges you face, you can achieve great things with hard work, dedication, and the support of your community. Through the foundation, Joyner-Kersee is helping to create a new narrative for the children of East St. Louis, IL one that emphasizes the power of education, the importance of community, and the potential for greatness in every individual.

The JJK Foundation has been going strong for 30 years and counting, and while Jackie has dreams of expansion, she’s determined to sustain what has already been built.

The foundation is a testament to the power of sport to inspire and transform lives. Through it, Jackie Joyner-Kersee has created a legacy that extends far beyond her athletic achievements and has helped to empower a generation of young people to reach their full potential.  


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