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Strength in Trust

Updated: Apr 19

Former NFL Superbowl winner Marlin Jackson played multiple positions in a successful career for two teams. Although no longer lining up on the field of play, he now suits up to tackle a different game of play. Marlin has transitioned from professional sports to prioritizing social and emotional learning. Taking what he learned as an athlete and witnessing the beauty that came from trust in team players, we dive deep into how businesses and organizations thrive when they have the ability to partner with trust and confidence in one another. 

Starting his NFL career with the Indianapolis Colts as a first round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, Marlin finished his time in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles. (Worth noting as an Indianapolis-based publication, Marlin was on the Superbowl XVI Championship team when the city won over the Chicago Bears in 2007.)

Two men talking

Since leaving sports Jackson has taken a larger role in being part of the resources youth and public schools in Indianapolis have access to. Marlin is on a mission to create opportunities for educators and schools to impact kids’ lives and transform their schools with social-emotional learning [SEL] programs that help make a difference. 

The Fight for Life Foundation was founded in 2007, lead by Marlin and his understanding the influence of sports when it comes to overcoming adversity, adversity, building relationships, finding confidence, and learning how to believe in yourself and others. He shares. “The first initiative we launched was the Seal the Deal Youth Football Camp which provided an opportunity for youth to engage in physical fitness team building and relationship building. Building on the concept of football we launched the Field of Dreams program in partnership with  Shepherd Community Center located in Indianapolis. This program incentivizes students by tracking behavior at the community center and rewarding students for positive behavior.”

As Jackson learned more about the communities that he was in and involved in, he learned how schools today continue facing behavioral issues that disrupt the learning environment and lead to poor classroom culture. Knowing what barriers might lay in place, Fight for Life Foundation created a comprehensive social-emotional learning program to help equip administrators with the data they need to support their teachers and students. It also supports teachers with resources to improve classroom management and student behavioral problems, and issues and engages students in a fun gamified program that rewards their responsible decision-making and ultimately helps meet their needs. 

As the Fight for Life Foundation continues to grow, Marlin and his team introduced the Be a Blessing Field Trip which provided an enriching experience for children from his hometown of Sharon, Pennsylvania. They bus sixth graders and chaperones from his childhood elementary school to Indianapolis for a Colts game, recreational experience, and dinner. 

Three people talking together

In 2009, he created the social-emotional learning curriculum to teach virtues and values, and engage students through self-reflection and reading. The curriculum was integrated within the Boys and Girls Club of Indianapolis at the Seal the Seal Summer Football Camp over time, they combined the behavioral management concept with the SEL lessons to create the Building Dreams program. As many business owners and entrepreneurs can relate, starting a business is a personal experience. You build an organization that's, as Marlin says, “Birthed from your pain and experiences nurtured through the trials and tribulations that occur as you explore, learn, evolve, and grow.” When the point of intervention came as the organization grew past its current capabilities, Marlin knew he needed to find a business he could work with without having stress weighing on the relationship. When speaking to the budding partnership with Counterpart, he said, “Counterpart provided the ethics, competency, and insights to help us bring our vision to reality. Their team has collaborated by listening to our vision/ideas, processing information, and combining their knowledge of software development and service delivery with our innovative ideas and educator suggestions. This approach has created a recipe for success and allowed Fight for Life to carry out our mission in an innovative scalable manner.”

Delving into trust development with another business and/or organization can feel like can be a big moment, especially in an entrepreneur's journey. Marlin understood that he did not have a background in software as a service or technology development and realized that competent and reliable partners were extremely important. “God chose me to be responsible for the vision, but that doesn't mean that it is mine. The Fight for Life Foundation belongs to God and as the founder, He has made me responsible for the organization's existence and evolution. As the responsible party, I must trust who God brings to the table and be able to discern when the right or wrong people are present,” shares Marlin. He goes on, “Trust comes through shared experiences over time, when you see people continue to show up with the right intentions it builds confidence and trust.” 

A man speaking to a group of people

Lauren Dodrill, Director of Marketing at Counterpart shared a little bit about what this felt like from the company side. “It's hard to believe it's been since 2018 when we kicked off this project Marlin was and continues to be the brains behind the Fight for Life Foundation, and he spotted a major hurdle that led to us working with them to create their custom software, Building Dreams. They were struggling to keep tabs on their program implementations and handle all their efficiently gathered data. A lot was getting stuck in manual processes, and it was just slowing them down. They had dreams of expanding their reach, but their current setup wasn’t built to handle it. So that's where we came in. We were able to work with them to build a solution that would not only tackle their current challenges but also set them up for growth. It was all about understanding their needs and goals, being intuitive, and creating the software that would evolve with them.”

As Marlin created the Building Dreams software with Counterpart, he created it from the space of his own lived experiences. Growing up, there can be a lot of mistrust, confusion, uncertainty, and sometimes disappointment.

He worked to meet his younger self where he was from a vantage point of empowerment, hoping to create solutions that would help him realize the impact of his decisions and offer support wherever he decided to go. 

This is how equity in tech has been genuinely woven into our work. I've tried to create solutions to meet that little boy where he was with the hope of empowering him to realize that his decisions and support will lead him to wherever he wants to go. “This place within me is where most of my ideas originate, but it is through collaboration with others that the initial idea takes full shape or form. I wanted to cause kids to reflect, so I created lessons, I wanted kids to realize that decisions determine consequences, so I created a behavior management system, I realized that it was too difficult to determine if the curriculum was being implemented with fidelity and that it was too laborious to collect, process, and analyze data, so I had the idea to turn a tangible product into technology,” Marlin shares, “We all come from different walks of life, but oftentimes the experiences and perceptions of subgroups (minorities) within our society are overlooked. When minority creatives produce solutions, major gaps are filled and connections are made.”

Three people walking down a hallway.

This is how the Fight for Life Foundation has produced a platform centered on equity in Educational Technology. Through partnerships with educators, original board members from the field of education, and new colleagues from education, the ideas and creativity have been informed by the experiences of not only Marlin but by the experiences reflective of those they serve. As he gets to the root of their mission, he declares, “This is truly the power of God, how all things work together, how God uses people to carry out his will. I'm responsible, but others bring the value that is needed to produce quality. Quality is what we stand and Fight for! We advocate for quality of life by executing our mission of helping deserving but underserved youth develop the Social and Emotional Qualities that are needed for success.”

There’s something beautiful when businesses can lean into one another in a way that allows both parties to thrive.

A man and a child standing together

When Marlin moved to partner with Counterpart, it allowed him to do what he does best because he knew Counterpart was building what they best knew would intentionally move the Fight for Life Foundation forward. As Fight for Life propelled forward with intentions centered around relationships and impact, Marlin continues to emphasize their goal to see the lives of children, families, and educators improved. Their service delivery model is unique, as they work diligently to provide a software solution and support that meets educators and students where they are with the appropriate resources and tools. They have a great understanding of the trust required not only between Counterpart and them as they formulate a software to make an impact, but also the trust required between the software and those they serve: “We understand that people plus software equals success – our positive intentions, consistency, and continuous improvement is why our school clients have grown to trust us,” he says. As Marlin reflected on the journey of the working relationship with the business he first leaned into to make this real-life impact, he remarked, “We have vision, creativity, and passion while Counterpart has the know-how to turn the vision and creativity into a reality. It is truly a representation of the power of a team. No one person or organization has to have all the answers but when our skill sets complement one another, we can work in a well-intentioned space we all win.”


Marlin Jackson and Lauren Dodrill interviewed and written by The MORE Team in Partnership with Counterpart. Photography courtesy of Fight for Life Foundation and Counterpart.

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