An African American woman who overcame financial and racial barriers growing up in the South is now the coordinator of enrollment and advising for the FASTrack program at the University of Mississippi.
Jacqueline Certion was raised by a single parent with nine siblings. She grew up in rural Lafayette County and now lives in Oxford with her husband and children.
“My problems growing up came from how much money my mom made, and whether or not I had certain clothes, and if could go certain places,” she said.
Certion said she was stigmatized at a young age because of her socioeconomic status, and she began to understand that the children who made her feel that way did so because those ideas came from their parents. She said she wants others to know: “Children do not choose the life in which they are born.”
Certion’s mother worked all day, so she faced some limitations growing up that other children didn’t. “Watching my mom work so hard helped me build character,” she said, “helped me to love myself, and appreciate who I am, and who I was as an individual, and that value is not based off material things.”
The people who had preconceived ideas about Certion were one of the reasons she continued pushing forward. Some people doubted whether or not she would be successful because of her family’s economic status.
“People were saying when (was) I was going to come home with a baby,” said Certion, who had eight siblings who became pregnant at a young age.
“One thing about me, my siblings, and even my kids, is that we have a hard work ethic, and that came from us watching my mom work hard,” she said.
Certion said she was rejected from some jobs because of her race and gender. It was disheartening and difficult to cope with, but she got through those situations by repeating to herself: “Whatever God has planned for me, there’s nothing no man or no woman can take from me.” She said being still and happy with what God gave her helped her progress.
Even after settling for other jobs, Certion still faced discrimination. “Knowing that you come to work 110 percent from the time you come in to the time you leave, and the volume of the work you do is the volume of work for two or three people, but it is overlooked because they want a different look is hard sometimes,” she said, speaking of past jobs.
Through trying times, Certion recalled a lesson that has stuck with her since youth: “Hard work eventually pays off. You might not see immediate changes, but it will pay off.” Regardless of how others treated her, she still worked hard.
Certion said the main thing she took away from everything she has been through is: “You can’t let someone determine your faith.”
In retrospect, she said she wouldn’t change the way she was raised or the atmosphere in which she grew up. She would change the way people perceived others based on their socioeconomic class.
University of Mississippi junior Armonti Johnson believes Certion is a queen. Johnson, a social work major, aspires to work with neglected children. Before becoming Certion’s secretary this year, Certion was Johnson’s freshmen FASTrack adviser.
“Mrs. Jackie is not an ordinary adviser who tells you what classes to take,” Johnson said. “She actually engages in your lifestyle. She’s basically like a second mom.”
Johnson said Certion’s message is you can’t let your past define you. “You can’t just label one word to her or just one job,” said Johnson, who aspires to be like Certion. “She’s everything.”
Certion said she’d like to tell all college students: “Regardless of being knocked down, regardless of wanting to give up, giving up is not an option. You have to keep going and reach the goal that you set out for yourself.”
After retiring from the University of Mississippi, Certion said she’d like to give back to the Oxford community what was given to her.
“I love giving back to this Oxford community because there are so many people who helped me get to where I am today,” she said.