Justin Potts, December 5, 2013

In the United States, 22 percent of children under the age of 17 live in poverty, 36 percent live in single- or no-parent households, and 46 percent live in inadequate housing. Former University of Michigan defensive back Marlin Jackson was once a textbook example of the large number of underserved youth in this country.

Now, Jackson is devoting his post-football career to helping other kids overcome similar struggles he went through.

Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio and Sharon, Pa., he never knew his father. His mother struggled with drug addiction. He spent different periods of his youth being raised by his grandmother, then his 17-year-old sister, then an aunt and uncle before his football coach finally took him in.

Still, Jackson considers himself fortunate. His football talents allowed him to make it out. As a high school All-American he committed to Michigan, but when he arrived in Ann Arbor in 2001, football skills were about all he had. He credits the university with helping him grow up.

?The University of Michigan really broadened my horizons and changed my perspective on life because I came to Michigan with the background of a small town, growing up in difficult circumstances and not really having seen much of the other side of life and the things that are possible,? Jackson explained. ?It really opened my eyes up that there?s another world out there that does not have to be filled with struggle.?

During his senior season he was named team captain and earned first team All-America honors. He was drafted in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts and his interception of former Michigan teammate Tom Brady clinched the 2007 AFC Championship, which was followed by a Super Bowl title.

When Jackson retired from the NFL after the 2012 season, he immediately devoted more of his time to the Fight for Life Foundation, which he started in 2007.

The foundation helps underserved youth develop socially and emotionally through education, athletics, and wellness activities. Schools such as the Phalen Leadership Academy in Indianapolis, Ind., and Musser Elementary in Sharon, Ind., have incorporated the programs into their curriculum for 30 to 45 minutes a day, five days a week, throughout the entire school year. Jackson hopes it will continue to grow and help more children.

?It?s hard to touch and reach as many as you would like, but that?s why I?m finding we have to try to do it in the most consistent and the most impactful way,? Jackson said. ?I feel like by creating a feeder system where you come in as a third grader and you have to develop each summer all the way through this program, I think it can be extremely impactful.?

The foundation is funded through donations and grants from the Ronald McDonald House, NFL Charities, the Indianapolis Colts, and others.

?There are all kinds of different avenues through our website to reach out to us,? Jackson said. ?Whether it?s a potential fruitful relationship with a business, an individual willing to donate, if someone wants to volunteer for camp or an event, you?ll find plenty of ways to lend a hand.?

More information, go to: http://fightforlifefoundation.org