Kelli Jackson
Kelli Jackson

Each new day, Kelli Jackson is guided by a simple precept: make it a point to take at least one step toward your goal. The steps toward Jackson’s goal have made quite journey, including winning the state championships for the Community Colleges Forensic Association.

“It’s been a ride,” she says. “And I’m enjoying it. I have a lot of goals, including graduation with honors from USC owing zero dollars.”

Jackson moved from Kansas to Los Angeles when she was 17, having been invited here through the “Best New Talent” program, and was chosen out of 1400 teens as a best actress. She appeared on several TV shows “Method & Red,” “Monk” and “Threshold,” as well as a few movies, including “Fat Girls” and “Shackles.”

After finishing her studies at Shawnee Mission East High School via long distance learning, Jackson’s parents urged her to continue her education.

“They said ‘Your butt needs to be in school’,” Jackson laughs. “And I was told the best way to get into a four-year school was to transfer from a community college.”

Living near Hollywood, her logical choice was Los Angeles City College.

“At first I thought it was dumb that I had to take Speech 101, I mean here I have a SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card,” she remembers. “But it became my favorite class and Ben Bates my favorite teacher. He encouraged me to get into forensics and told me scholarships were available.”

While the debate team at LACC has garnered many honors in the last years, Kelli’s championship program is not a scene out of “The Great Debaters.” She works in individual events – reciting spoken word poetry and essays while her teammates compete in debate.

“We were fall champions of the PSCFA (Pacific Southwest Collegian Forensics Association),” she said. “Drew (Lobenstein) is the perfect coach for me.”

Since her win and subsequent invitation to the nationals in Chicago, Kelli has received letters of interest from UC San Diego, UC Long Beach, Pepperdine, UC Riverside, CSULA and UCLA, but USC is her choice.

“I joined the SCholars Program here at City and that made all the difference,” Kelli said.

The SCholars Program is a collaborative between the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, USC, East LA College, LA Trade Technical College and LACC. It assists exceptional community college students in transferring to the nation’s most selective colleges and universities. So far, she’s received three scholarships from USC.

“I’m just a Black girl from Kansas,” she said. “I know what I wanted to do and I told Coach Lobenstein that if they could get me to the statewide competition, I’d handle the rest. The whole experience has taught me not to wait around, but make your opportunities happen.”