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JCSU mother and daughter share passion for social work and graduation

Lelia Jackson ‘20 and her daughter Kneadee Lester-Jackson ‘20

Charlotte, N.C. / June 24, 2020 - On Friday, June 5, 2020 Lelia Jackson ‘20 and her daughter Kneadee Lester-Jackson ‘20 both received their diplomas from President Clarence D. Armbrister during Johnson C. Smith University’s diploma pick-up. “It was at that moment when our vehicle was next and the president walked towards us that tears just automatically started coming down my face,” Jackson said. “I did not realize the impact of what that meant to me until I actually arrived.” 

Jackson and her daughter would have graduated together during the University’s commencement exercises in May, but the ceremony was rescheduled, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attending college with your parents is not the ideal situation for most students, but Lester-Jackson welcomed it. “I was extremely happy because I knew she wanted to get her master’s degree and I'm glad that JCSU was a good fit for her,” she said. 

Lelia Jackson ‘20


In 2016, their family relocated to Charlotte before Lester-Jackson began her undergraduate degree. Little did Jackson know the move would affect her career. A social worker with more than 15 years of experience, she struggled to find a new job in the Queen City. “I was going back for second interviews but not landing the position for whatever reason. I felt the Lord wanted me to return to school,” she said. “I thought what better time for me to return to school then the time of which my daughter was attending school.” In 2018, Jackson began the Master of Social work program at JCSU.

The MSW program provided her flexibility. “I could not attend school during the day, so I was happy the program offered evening classes,” she added. Returning to school 20 years after receiving her Bachelor’s degree, also gave her a current landscape of her chosen field. “The program assisted in shifting my view for the future of my career.” Jackson, who once worked with families, hopes to work on the collegiate level in the future. 

Her ambition has had an everlasting effect on her daughter, who now wants to follow in her footsteps. “I see what she's done in the social work community,” Lester-Jackson said. “Growing up, I saw how she affected others in such positive ways and it made me feel like I can do this too.” Lester-Jackson once had dreams of becoming a clinical psychologist, but after research and a conversation with MSW program director, Dr. Melvin Herring, she’s pursuing a career in clinical social work. “Once he kind of explained exactly what clinical social work was; I decided that applying to the MSW program at JCSU was the best fit for me.”

Kneadee Lester-Jackson ‘20Lester-Jackson, a first-cohort McNair Scholar, comes from a family of educators. She appreciated having her mother with her on campus. The process benefitted her. “There were no cons because she helped me and I helped her,” Lester Jackson said. Her mother added, “It's a new generation of schooling so there were a lot of systems that I was not aware of, and she was able to assist me.”

They hope their story inspires others, especially an older generation, inspired to return to the classroom. “My daughter and I represent hope,” Jackson emphasized. “Just because I may be older, or at a different place in my life where hers may be beginning, doesn't mean that I sit and wait until she's finished with her goals and then I start with mine.”

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