Sunday November 22, 2015

Tom Jackson uses fame to shine a spotlight in dark places

Tom Jackson sings his heart out for those who have no voice.

Tom Jackson sings his heart out for those who have no voice. (Bill Borgwardt)

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The first time Tom Jackson was homeless, he was 15 years old.

More a youthful misadventure than a crisis, he survived on Winnipeg streets for several years by hustling at pool and sleeping in stairwells or on friends' couches.

The second time he was homeless, it was an addiction that drove the Métis singer and actor to the streets. That time, he picked himself up with a little help. 

"An angel saved my life," Jackson explained.

"I had reason to perish at some point in my life and somebody came along that was worse off than me. And for whatever reason, I decided to give a hand up. It changed my life. I became addicted to that feeling."

Now an internationally known actor and musician, Jackson has starred in TV shows such as North of 60, Star Trek:The Next Generation, Shining Time Station, and movies like The Diviners. He has recorded 16 albums. 

But it's what he does with his fame that gives Jackson his biggest high.

If you use your art as an instrument of change and you use it with honesty and integrity you can spread the word of love, of peace, of hope. You can do all the kinds of things that you need to do that will help others become more connected with their spirituality and if that is what you choose to do, you will be successful. - Tom Jackson

A well-known philanthropist, he created the annual concert The Huron Carole to raise money for food banks. He also started the Dreamcatcher Tour after his North of 60 co-star, Mervin Good Eagle, took his own life in October 1996. The goal of that project is to raise awareness and eliminate youth suicide. 

Jackson latest album, Ballads Not Bullets, is in support of the Canadian Red Cross — a project that he says fulfills a childhood dream.

"When I was a little kid I wanted to wear the cape. I wanted to be a fireman or a policeman or the Lone Ranger. OK, maybe the other guy," Jackson said with a laugh.

"When I read the principles and I had the opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Red Cross, I realized that if I did this, I could fulfil that childhood dream. I could, without prejudice, help other human beings."

Ballads Not Bullets

Jackson's latest album, Ballads Not Bullets, is in support of the Canadian Red Cross.

It took Jackson five years to finish the album and while there are songs about peace, fidelity, harmony, hope, and happiness, there is also darkness.

"[It's] about how my world is coloured," Jackson said. "And if I didn't have that colour in my world, if I hadn't gone to dark places, I wouldn't have a clue what I was talking about."

After 30 years of using fame to spotlight issues important to him, Jackson said now more than ever, artists can become the voice of change.

"We live in a time where change is imminent, where you can whisper and be heard around the planet."