Carlissa Jackson started work with Youth Pride Services (YPS) in 2006 at age 18, when a friend asked her to join him because he was shy about going. Six years later, she is one of the first female college graduates of YPS.
Jackson is pursuing a Ph.D. in community psychology from National Louis University, while also working in research. She has also obtained a masters in applied psychology, earned an associate of applied sciences in networking systems administration, and earned a bachelor's in psychology from IIT with a minor in education.
"I want to master my trade in every way, it includes knowing the needs of certain populations, building community relationships, and having the formal knowledge needed to provide for them and represent them," she said.
Jackson began working with YPS as an LGBTQ ally through several programs over time. She eventually became a youth ambassador, planning events, attending meetings and acting as a liaison between program directors and youth.
Jackson went on to become the first democratically-elected female president of YPS, an organization the is roughly 90% male, according to YPS President Frank Walker. Her position as president was similar to youth ambassador but with additional responsibilities.
Jackson came to YPS as a straight ally to support her friend, and in doing that opened the door for other straight allies, said Walker.
Jackson also represents a growing trend within YPS. Over time, Walker said, more of the YPS leaders and members have been graduating from college.
Early on, Jackson knew what she wanted to pursue academically. Her mother does psychology work and research as a rehabilitation counselor for the State of Illinois.
"[It was] very natural for me to actually study psychology," said Jackson.
Jackson came from a background full of educators and intellectuals.
"My mentors and aunt have their doctorates in education, sociology, and psychology," she said. "My peers have undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology, business administration, engineering, public policy.
However, her work with YPS introduced her to a demographic she hopes to work with professionally: at-risk youth.
"I would definitely say that being at YPS, really opened my eyes to a different group of youth," said Jackson. "I was fortunate enough to work with youth, work with my own peers, who were less fortunate than myself, as far as finances, social support and everything else."
Jackson described YPS as one large resource for everything from homework help to building friendships, to receiving advice.
"Once you're involved, you're very tight, kind of like a pack of brothers and sisters… If there is anything you may need assistance in, they are there for you," she said.
In addition to the encouragement at YPS, Jackson is thankful for being a part of a program that is geared towards LGBTQ youth.
Being part of YPS taught Jackson some valuable lessons, she said. It gave her a sense of what services are needed and taught her to be an advocate for people regardless of their race, gender or sexuality.
YPS may not have impacted Jackson's education directly, but it did expose her to different people and ideas.
"You are greater than the block that you live on, you are greater than your nationality," she said, emphasizing the importance of becoming a part of something unfamiliar.