Maleka Jackson was a mother, a wife, the “glue” of her sorority, a diversity and inclusion manager, and a woman who believed in “creating an environment that respects differences, celebrates uniqueness and embraces the diversity of thoughts.”
On LinkedIn, her positive attitude toward life shines through. She opened her page with a quote from Confucius: “The man or woman who moves a mountain, begins by carrying away small stones.”
“Sometimes the work we do in Human Resources and in Diversity and Inclusion feels like we’re trying to move mountains,” Jackson, of Woodstock, Georgia, wrote.
“Organizational change, development, and management is no small feat nor is focusing on equity, equality, inclusiveness, attraction, retention, engagement, and culture. Big goals – or small strides, I am committed to giving my all and taking on as much as I can…stone by stone.” A man who wrote a recommendation on the page described Maleka as having “a great personal touch and connection with each person in her department.”
A former teacher wrote, “Without a doubt I would say she is one of the most exceptional students and individuals I have instructed. I found her strong communication skills and genuine positive attitude to be refreshing and definitely a role model for others.”
From Chattanooga, Tennessee, but based in the Atlanta area, Jackson was named as the American woman who was tragically killed in a tourist boat explosion in the Bahamas that also left other Americans injured, including a 22-year-old woman who lost both legs.
Several of the injured were from the same American family, the Schaffers. Maleka Grimes Jackson was remembered by those who knew and loved her as a “light into the world.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help her husband and son, and a series of vigils have been held as Maleka’s community comes out to remember the woman who gave so much to it.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Maleka Jackson Was on a Trip for Her Wedding Anniversary When the Boat Exploded & Was Remembered for Her ‘Limitless Potential’
Jada Wright Nichols, who knew Jackson, told AJC that Maleka had “limitless potential.”
“We join Mill Creek Middle School in mourning the loss of a wonderful mom, volunteer and leader, who cared so much for her community and its children and teachers,” Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Superintendent of Schools in Cherokee County, Georgia, said in a statement posted to Facebook. Maleka’s son attends school in that district.
Maleka and her husband, Tiran, had gone on the trip to the Bahamas to celebrate their love for each other. ABC News reported that Maleka was in the Bahamas with her husband to celebrate their wedding anniversary when the tragedy occurred.
Her father, Malvin Grimes, told ABC News that Maleka Jackson and her husband, Tiran Jackson, “had booked the trip to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary.” Tiran Jackson was also injured, ABC News reported. He was being treated for his injuries in Miami, Florida in the days after the tragedy.
The tragedy occurred on June 30, 2018 in the early morning hours as a charter tour boat transported 10 passengers and 2 crew. According to CNN, the 40-foot boat burst into flames near Barraterre island in the Exuma Cays.
Nine other people were injured. According to the GoFundMe page designed to help Maleka’s husband and son, “Tiran’s trauma has resulted in an amputation and other severe injuries. He has a long road ahead, which will include multiple surgeries and physical therapy.”
The site continues, “Funds will also be used to help with the care of their young son, who is currently in the care of out-of-state family members and upon recovery, a widowed husband. Maleka was a loving Mom, dedicated wife, grateful daughter and supportive friend. She will be greatly missed and her legacy will live on forever.”
2. Maleka Jackson Worked in Higher Education Administration & Was a Teacher as Well as Working on Diversity & Inclusion
On Facebook, Maleka Jackson referred to herself as MJ Jackson. “Live. Love. Laugh. Learn. Listen. Lead. I’m a Grimes. I’m a descendant of Wakanda ???I was here,” she said, referring to the fictional African utopia in the movie Black Panther.
She spent her life working on diversity and inclusion issues, but she was also a teacher and worked in higher education administration. According to her LinkedIn page, she was a senior manager in diversity and inclusion for a real-estate firm since January 2017. “I am responsible for executing and contributing to the development of our diversity strategy,” she wrote of the position.
Before that, she worked as a diversity talent acquisition recruiter for Accenture in the Greater Atlanta area. “I wore numerous hats in this role including being strategic, tactical, and operational. I was a thought leader, talent advisor, an advocate, and sometimes a voice of reason for some of incoming candidates as they focused on completing their degrees and transitioning in the corporate setting,” she wrote.
Allison Wang, of Accenture, wrote in a recommendation on LinkedIn of Maleka, “Maleka is a very professional leader. She has many years experience in diversity inclusion and talent fulfillment. I had an opportunity to work with her with my recruiting process. She has done an incredibly great job, and she is always on top of everything.” Simone May described her as “a very personable and supportive recruiter.” Yvonne Seals recalled in a recommendation on the page, “To say that I admire this woman and wish to pattern my professional performance after her example, is to summarize my respect for her influence in my life.”
The focus on mentorship may have been steeped in her previous work in education. She was director of career services in higher education administration for multiple organizations for six years, worked in financial services, and was an elementary and middle school teacher.
Maleka’s Facebook page shows a love of travel, as her cover photo, from June 2018, is of the Amalfi Coast in Italy. Most of her other posts are inspirational sayings. “Do something today that your future self will thank you for,” read one.
3. Maleka Jackson Was the Mother of a Teenage Boy, PTSA President & Earned an MBA
In addition to her husband, Maleka Jackson, who was 39-years-old, leaves behind a son. “The couple met in college at Tennessee State University and have a 12-year-old son together,” UK Daily Mail reported.
According to its Facebook post, Jackson was the 2017-18 president of the Mill Creek Middle School PTSA. Her son attends that school, where he’s in the 7th grade.
According to CBS Albany, Maleka and her husband dropped their young son “off with family in Nashville.” Maleka’s father told the station that telling the boy his mother had died was difficult but the child understands the “eternal place of his mom.” According to the television station, Maleka’s family called her “a light into the world” and described her as focused on her family.
Jackson graduated from Tennessee State University in 2000 with a degree in Liberal Arts & Sciences. She received a teacher’s certification. In 2005, she received her MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University, and she received an MHRM in Human Resources in 2009 from Keller School of Management, according to her LinkedIn page.
The tragedy shocked a member of Parliament for Exumas, Chester Cooper, who took to Facebook and said an American woman had died in the explosion.
“This is a sad day for Exuma and a sad day for our American friends. We are saddened and our hearts are hurting, but we will get through this together,” Cooper wrote on Facebook.
4. Maleka’s Sorority Sisters in College Considered Her the ‘Glue’ Who Kept Them All Together
Maleka was very close to her sorority sisters. “Maleka was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority, Inc.,” a close friend told Heavy. “She became a member at Tennessee State University (Alpha Psi) in 1999. She went on to charter a graduate chapter, Chi Chi Omega, in 2005. Alpha Kappa Alpha was very near and dear to Maleka. She loved leading and being of service to others through it. A lot of her Sorors would call her the ‘glue’ who kept them all together.”
According to AJC, Maleka was “the unofficial president of the unofficial Atlanta alumni chapter of Tennessee State University’s Alpha Psi chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.” The newspaper reports that she moved to Atlanta about 10 years ago.
The recommendations on her LinkedIn page show she continued these attributes after college. “Maleka is the ultimate professional. She is intellectually very smart, has a strong business sense and her contributions to the education field is unmatched,” says one.
“It comes with great pleasure to recommend Maleka. She is the definition of a true leader. In the time that I reported to Maleka she was a great teacher, advisor and friend,” says another.
A series of vigils have been held for Maleka. “We had vigils in 7 different cities today,” a close friend of Maleka told Heavy on July 8, 2018.
5. Maleka Was Described as a ‘Gem’ & a ‘God-Fearing’ Woman
A gem. A God-fearing woman. Those were the words Maleka’s mother used to describe her. According to The Guardian, Maleka was adventurous and loved “skiing, horseback riding, parasailing and zip lining.”
Her father told The Nassau Guardian, “She was a person full of joy and had a life of order. By life of order I mean she valued God, valued family, valued education and valued community development.”
A woman who knew her wrote on Twitter, “We often take life for granted. Another tragedy struck. Maleka Jackson, a beautiful soul has passed. May she rest in peace, she had an impact on so many…if it were not for her so many people would not be at Accenture. This is horrible.”
Sheila Jones and John Inman were named as other passengers on the boat, but they did not suffer serious injuries. Jones’ two sons were on the boat but also survived the explosion, according to UK Daily Mail.
Multiple members of an American family were also on the boat, and one, a 22-year-old woman named Stefanie Schaffer, lost both legs and is still hospitalized with severe wounds.
A GoFundMe page has been established to help Stefanie and her family. “The Family wants everyone to know they are so thankful for the outpouring of love and support by so many of you. The kind words and prayers are very much needed and appreciated,” it reads. Stefanie’s mother Stacey is also injured with two fractured legs.
“The next challenge is to get Stefanie and Stacey to the U.S. for more medical care. Stefanie has not only suffered the loss of her lower legs, but needs surgery on her spine for an L1 lumbar disk fracture. Please keep the love and prayers for Stefanie. Stacey will also need surgery for her two fractured legs.”
The GoFundMe page, which has raised more than $32,000 to help the family, reads, “Stefanie and Brooke Schaffer were traveling on vacation with their mother and stepfather, Stacey and Paul Bender. On Saturday June 30th the family joined a boat tour to enjoy the sights off the island of Exuma, located about 130 miles south of Nassau. The boat bursts into flames shortly after 9 a.m.”
The post continues, “Stefanie sustained life threatening injuries including a double amputation and remains in critical condition. Stacey suffered multiples broken bones and internal injuries. Paul and Brooke suffered bruises and cuts. Brooke and Stefanie’s father and Brother are traveling to be with them in the Bahamas, George and George Jr. We are raising funds for the medical and travel expenses. With the support of the family, we have launched a GoFundMe page, in hopes to raise $50,000.00. We know their expenses will far exceed this as this becomes a life long struggle for this family.”