Though she may have begun her career as a Disney-kid, there’s nothing meek or mild about this actress, activist and author. Skai Jackson’s book and awards prove that she has come into her own. Her new book, Reach for the Skai: How to Inspire, Empower, and Clapback proves that she’s more than capable of speaking up for the causes near and dear to her heart. Though many of us know Skai for her roles on shows like Jessie and Bunk’d and her more-recent appearance in Lil Nas X’s “Panini” video–a good chunk of Jackson’s life work thus far has been done off the screen.
The 17-year-old has been vocal about her zero-tolerance policy against bullying and her classy clapbacks that have empowered others to stand up for themselves. On the heels of the release of Reach for the Skai–-Jackson was honored at TLC’s Third Annual GIVE A LITTLE Awards In partnership with Love Is Louder, a project of The Jed Foundation. The New York City native was recognized for her tireless work to eradicate bullying and promote kindness for the generations coming after us. In the wake of our current political climate and with the explosion of social media–this is no easy feat.
Yet, with grace, poise and self-assurance that many teenagers are still trying to find–Jackson is using her voice to show us that harassment of any kind has no place in our communities. On the day of her book launch–STYLECASTER sat down to chat with Jackson about her new book, why she’s never going to be silenced and preparing herself for the next phase in her career.
“The idea for Reach for the Skai started with a conversation I had with a family friend,” she explained. “He said ‘You know what, you should somehow tell your story. You and your mom have a story to tell for sure.’ I was like, ‘Hmm, how can I do that?’ So I thought about it overnight and I said, ‘You know what, I think I should write a book.’ It was something that I was a little scared of doing, but I was like, “You know what, I’m going to jump all in it and I’m so excited.’ I told my team about it and it kind of just happened like overnight. We got my book publishers involved right after that. It was over a year process, but it was an amazing journey and now the book is here.”
Getting to the core of the story was a bit more challenging then Jackson initially anticipated. “It was hard at first because it was going to be just the book on anti-bullying,” she said. “But then my book publishers were like, ‘You know what? I think it would be a good idea if we do somewhat of a memoir even though you are only 16.’ I was 16 at the time. Having to just go back and think about when it all started and make sure we got all the facts right and everything was a little bit hard to do. Also, the writing process was long for sure. But we pulled through, and we got it all done. It’s a great feeling of seeing the book done and having it in front of me. However, going back and thinking of those memories was a little bit tough.”
Despite her initial trepidation about some of the more personal subjects in her book–Jackson is adamant about seeing young women speaking up for themselves. “I feel like it’s just really important,” she explained. “You shouldn’t be scared because of your age. That’s why I felt like it was really important for me to write this book as well. To speak on topics that not a lot of people speak about. And yes, I’m only 17, but my voice matters and I feel like other people around my age, their voice matters as well.”
One of the reasons Jackson felt so compelled to share her story was because she bullied by rapper Azealia Banks back in 2014. After watching Banks come after One Direction alum Zayn Malik–Jackson tweeted, “Azealia Banks needs to simmer down a little.” From there, things spiraled out of control with Banks–then 24-years-old, commenting on Jackson’s body, disparaging her mother and commenting on her skin complexion. Still, Jackson would not be silenced. “Growing up, I was always the kind of person who would speak up for myself no matter what,” she explained. “I would have regretted not doing so at that time. So, I’m definitely glad I did. Yes, I was only 14 at the time, but I had to voice my opinion and I did. And I feel like it worked out in my favor. So I’m really, really glad that I did so.”
As a public figure–bullying is something the YouTuber encounters daily. “I feel like bullying has gotten worse because we do have social media,” Jackson reflected. “So that’s a whole different topic and whole other place that bullies can go on and attack people. I feel like obviously bullying is still going on in schools, but definitely, it’s worse on social media, especially if you do have a large number of followers. For me even still to this day, so many people still hate and have something negative to say. But I feel like if we all speak up about it, it’s something that should start to die down. And I hope it does one day, but it’s really sad to see that when we should be using our social media for good.”
Being recognized for her advocacy with GIVE A LITTLE has just been the icing on the cake. “It means a lot to me just to be recognized for speaking up on the topics I do and just to be honored in general with amazing people,” Jackson said. “It’s just such a great thing for me. And I’m so happy that TLC is doing that.”
Up next– Jackson is eager to return to the screen, shedding her child star persona more mature roles. “I’m just so excited just to see what my next phase in life, especially because I’m turning 18,” she explained. “I know the doors are going to open tremendously for me. I’m already doing some cool things. But yeah, this book thing for sure was something that took a lot of my time and a lot of focus. Now that this is finally coming to an end, I can start the next chapter in my life where I do cool things. I can’t wait to hopefully get into the beauty industry, do more films and TV shows and just put my hand in every pot that I can.”
The GIVE A LITTLE Awards were held on October 2, 2019, at Union Park Events in New York City.