Megashia Jackson’s mother battled drug addiction. A babysitter burned more than 50% of her body with scorching water. Classmates made her suffering worse by tormenting her about the scars that would mar her for life.
Jackson was clever enough to turn the jokes back on them, honing her comedic skills in the process. And her grandmother’s record store gave her an appreciation of music; she became a drummer and performed for Stevie Wonder, Eddie Murphy, and Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
She has mastered the art of multitasking by pursuing multiple vocations — modeling, recording, entrepreneurship and motivational speaking — all at once. Vowing to make her highs greater than her lows, Jackson works closely with A New Way of Life and First Woman’s Church in Los Angeles, both to empower women. In a conversation with Zenger News, Jackson talked about her difficult upbringing, the challenges of wearing multiple hats, and her new Kwanzaa album.
Percy Crawford interviewed Megashia Jackson for Zenger News.
Zenger News: A babysitter scalded you, burning more than 50% of your body, when you were a child. That’s just one of the trials you had to overcome. Did your upbringing give you a chip on your shoulder — or prepare you for the journey that you are on now?
Jackson: I think it better prepared me for what’s going on, now that I look back. But going through it, I just felt like I was just different. No chip, because I could still do everything that everybody else could do. I didn’t see myself as not normal just because I was a burn survivor. I had issues. But I still wanted to be on the track team, I still wanted to be on the basketball team and tennis. And everything I did, I was excellent at.
Zenger: Kids can be brutal, and I’m sure you were bullied. Well, they call it bullying now. We called it being picked on.
Jackson: Or teased, right.
Zenger: Yes. People gave you a hard time because of your scars. Did that strengthen you?
Jackson: It strengthened me because my mom, my grandmother and my family already prepared me for everything. Like with my name. My grandmother was like, “Sugar, your name is hard, so I’m going to mess it up all the time so when you get grown, it won’t bother you.” So, she would butcher my name. Every time she would say my name it would be different, and we would laugh. I think it just made me stronger and prepared. I knew my life was going to be hard from what my grandmother had been through, my aunties and uncles.
Zenger: You reached a point in your life where you stopped hiding your scars and actually became a model. You speak with other burn survivors. I’m sure embracing it and speaking with others who have dealt with it has been helpful to you.
Jackson: It’s very liberating. It’s funny at times. Say, I have on some sandals and I’m at the grocery store in the checkout line. A kid will look at my feet and be like, “Ewww,” and show their parents, and they will tell them to be quiet because I’m scarred. But I will be like, “Oh, ow!” and scream — and they run around the store and get in trouble [laughing]. I just kind of use it to lighten the ice because it’s me. No matter how I would like to look, this is what I got.
Zenger: You have a lot of occupations. Comedian is one of them. I love how you were able to use your situation to enhance or create another occupation. That story you just told shows your comedic side, becoming a model despite the burns. I think that’s just amazing.
Jackson: I didn’t try to, either. I just wanted to have a job that I liked. I just remember hearing how everyone hated their jobs. So, when I was figuring out what I’m going to do. Because I didn’t like school, right? I’m a comic. I talked trash every class. Got put out of all my classes. We moved to the Valley and I ended up at the Caucasian school and they definitely didn’t want the little black girl at their school, so they would push me from class to class. Every time I would get on a teacher’s nerves, they would push me to another class. So, I got home ec, auto mechanics class, I got wood shop, band — as much as I wanted. I got to run around and do different stuff so I embraced it. I didn’t get mad. I learned from it. I’m a fast learner, so once I learned what the issue was, or somebody wanted to make fun of me, I’m ready to fight. I done did my homework; I’m ready to beat you down.
Zenger: You are a model, comic, drummer. You’re a salon owner, motivational speaker. Is there one thing you enjoy doing more than the other right now, or have you found a perfect balance?
Jackson: I don’t even feel like they are jobs because I have fun with all of them. I love to do hair; I love to make women feel good. That’s motivational speaking at the same time as doing hair. I never let them have a pity party. It’s all about surviving and making it. I’ve been doing hair the longest. I guess I’ve been doing music the longest, but not professionally. Because I didn’t know at first, rocking myself or breathing with intent was fire breathing or learning how to make it through obstacles. I didn’t realize I was fire breathing at the age of 4 until I was 44. So, stuff didn’t really connect for a long time. I just always wanted to be myself. I even fight with my mom today. My mother calls me Mama because I don’t do certain things and she knows I’m not about to do them. When I was little, she was on crack cocaine. So, I would get a whooping for not doing certain stuff, like stealing our dinner. If I wouldn’t steal the steaks, we couldn’t eat no meat. So, she would whoop me, and I’m like, “No, we’re eating rice tonight. I’m cool with a pancake. I’m not stealing nothing.” I just never had that instinct to be bad or do bad stuff like stealing. It’s not worth it.
But to answer your question, I like music the most. Because with music, I can still dance and feel free. But it’s still hard. If I’m drumming for somebody for two hours straight — like, I drummed for Queen Afua for two hours straight; it got a little uncomfortable. But because I love it, I made it through 3½ hours. You just keep going because I know I’m giving energy and power to others. And they are like, “Wow, she’s been drumming the same rhythm without losing the beat for four hours. How does she do that? I wanna do that.” They think it’s easy playing the drums that I play. No, boo, it’s a gift. It’s mental, and I see my drumming as a gift from God. I don’t see it as, “Oh, I can play drums and I’m good.” Usually when I’m drumming, I’m humming something positive or chanting a positive chant to give that energy to those who are looking for it. Most of the African songs have a meaning. So, if I’m playing a song for celebration, I be like, “It’s my birthday!” I’m having fun. I dance when I drum. I don’t just stand there and drum. I’m dancing and having fun.
Zenger: You have drummed for some pretty big names. Have you ever been nervous before a set?
Jackson: I’ve had some bad shows. The worse show I ever had was last year. It’s a group. It’s usually a couple of us drumming together. It’s usually some drummers and the dancers. And the lead drummer had to go because the event started too late. We have several gigs booked on New Year’s Eve. And the group leader left us there and said, “This guy can play. You guys will be okay.” But the person that they let play didn’t know what he was doing. So, it made it hard because he didn’t know what he was doing. So, it made me a little stressed, and hard, but we did what we had to do. It was beautiful. I got paid more than I ever got paid for five minutes. It was only five minutes, but it felt like a long time. But I really don’t get nervous unless something is not right. I love being a performer because I started out doing platform work as a hairdresser. And then to go on stage as a drummer, I do my own hair, I do my own makeup, I like to be dressed to the T. I’m not coming out wrinkled. Just stuff that I got from my family or doing hair that I just use on stage as well.
Zenger: Everything seems to intertwine except the comedy part. You have this funny side to you and I’m sure people don’t know how to approach you sometimes.
Jackson: Well, the funny side started in elementary school from defending myself from being a burn survivor. So, it kind of does still all roll together. They were calling me ugly, so when I grew up, I wanted to do hair. I’m going to show you I’m pretty. I exercise, I eat right, I got to sleep at night, I’m not on drugs. I made sure that I was not going to be like the things that I seen. My goals were to be better than my own mama. I’m sorry, I love her, but no … I couldn’t be like that.
Zenger: You also have A New Way of Life, where you reach out to women who had been incarcerated. Tell us a little bit about that organization.
Jackson: It means a lot to me because, first of all, most women are victims — that’s how we get to prison, or get in trouble. Because we let a man or somebody else control a situation where we felt helpless. So, to empower women. And it’s not just New Way of Life where I empower women; I’m also with an organization called First Woman’s Church. It’s the same thing, but you don’t have to be a prisoner. New Way of Life are for those who have that strike. It’s like three strikes. I can’t never get a regular job at this point in my life because I’m a felon. It happened when I was 21. I’m fortysomething now and I still can’t get a job for something from when I was 21, for some marijuana. But they got white women owning stores now talking to you stupid because they making hella money from selling weed. I have a weed felony. I feel like it’s a mistake and everybody deserves a chance to live life. So, A New Way of Life to me is giving people a chance to live life through empowerment, and that’s important.
Zenger: Now that marijuana is being widely legalized in states, do you still feel that charge on your record will forever be a stain?
Jackson: I’m definitely going to try and get my record expunged. But in the state where I have my felony, it’s still against the law. My cousin just got 32 years for some weed. That was his initial “scare you to death” sentence for some MJ knowing. I’m not saying everybody likes [marijuana], but it’s medicine. It’s not like liquor to make you upset and want to go shoot everybody. You can’t drive, you can’t talk. You can’t even use your own sexual organs when you’re drunk.
Zenger: What can we be on the lookout for from you in the near future?
Jackson: I own a record label called Fallout Records, so look for me to continue to produce CDs, albums and streaming music. I will still continue to do music. I just put out a Kwanzaa CD. It’s called “Kwanzaa Drums.” It is the energies of Kwanzaa through traditional African drumming. Every day, Kwanzaa has a different principle. So, I made a CD that focuses on the energy of every day. The first day of Kwanzaa, you put on my CD and know that the first song on my CD is about unity, to strive and maintain unity for the family, community, nation and the race. Day 2, Kujichagulia, self-determination. So, that’s the CD that I have out right now. I think it will be popular for many years. It’s the first one yet.
Also working on “First Woman’s Church” CD, where the woman is adorned. Usually, with most churches, it’s usually called a center, but it’s church because we have a 501(c)(3). We adorn the woman. We do the Lady’s Prayer. We sing songs and reference the woman. It’s all about who you are. I really can’t identify with something I can’t see myself in. So, if you can see yourself in the land of God, with God as a goddess, then you relate better and think better. You will be a better mother and better wife. So, we’re working on more empowerment for women through music, a CD with African drumming and dancing. I’m doing dance class every Monday on Zoom. A beginning African Dance Class, with a teacher, because I’m not an African Dance teacher. I’m learning as I go as well, but I’m pretty good at this point. It’s been five years. Some of the stuff I don’t know until I’m on the stage seeing who I’m performing for, like with Jay-Z. It’s just wild. You never know who you’re performing for because the gigs come so fast.
I have a healthy hair challenge — or a healthy hair convention — for women, where I’m going to be teaching healthy hair tactics from a professional. A lot of the stuff on YouTube are from people who don’t have a license, who are just telling you how to make your hair look good. But your hair is still falling out, you don’t know why it’s itching, you don’t know what this bump is, you don’t know what a cold sore or a blackhead is and you’re just squeezing it; some stuff you don’t touch. So, just getting information for clients from a professional. I developed 37 different products. So I’m actually at the point where I can unveil my products.
Coming into the first of the year and going to pay these taxes, which are outlandish. But I’m ready for the tax world as far as my products that I’ve made are concerned. Getting stuff developed wasn’t easy. Like the lady that made my wraps and scarves. I designed them, she made them, I got them patented and trademarked; each product that I made on my own. I have had my trademark for nine years now. What I have is bigger than the average bear, so I enjoy sharing what God put in my life.
(Edited by Jameson O’Neal and David Martosko)
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