by Jim Gehman
“After going through one of the worst days in my professional life, getting undrafted, and then leading the Atlanta Falcons, who I signed with as a free agent, in sacks (during the preseason)and being put on the practice squad, Miami claimed me off the practice squad and I got cut again in the offseason,” Jackson said. “I had to have a real self-assessment conversation with myself. And that’s hard to do.
“A lot of times, people, especially young people, like to make excuses for why they’re not being successful in whatever their chosen field is. I had to tell myself I couldn’t do that. Clearly, I wasn’t as good as I thought I was and I thought I was pretty good. But I’d been cut twice by two different teams. Clearly, I wasn’t. I needed to do something different in order to expect a different outcome.”
Jackson’s gridiron outcome would ultimately be remarkable. After signing with Tampa Bay in 1996, he played the next 11 seasons with the Buccaneers, the then-St. Louis Rams, and the Detroit Lions.
“The game is so competitive,” Jackson said. “And being in love with the game and having the game tell you you’re not good enough, but then turn around and convince it that you actually are, and make a handsome amount of money while doing it is very gratifying. You’ve just got to have an undying belief in yourself. And then to change the minds of the people who told you, ‘no,’ felt good.”
Retiring from the league in 2007, Jackson returned to his hometown of Washington, DC, and focused on being an entrepreneur with the Jackson Investment Group, a business he founded in 1995 with his father and brother: Clarence Jr. and Clarence III.
“I came across a sign that said ‘Restaurant Pad for Rent’ not far from our corporate office,” Jackson said. “It was a dirt mound at that point, and it had a wooden sign that had been put up by a leasing agent. Most people who aren’t entrepreneurs see things with their normal two eyes looking forward, but entrepreneurs develop a third eye.
“Thousands and thousands of people had driven by it, but once I saw it, I saw an opportunity. And that began a year-long process of becoming an IHOP [International House of Pancakes] franchisee.”
In 2008, the Jacksons opened their first IHOP in Washington’s Ward 8, just blocks from where Clarence Jr. was raised.
“It was the first sit-down franchise in the history of Ward 8,” Jackson said. “We’re really, really proud of that because that area generally is known for fast food (restaurants), liquor stores, convenient stores and that sort of thing. In a lot of ways, it was sort of a food desert when it came to having a hot meal prepared and served to you. That just didn’t exist.”
Two years later, they opened a second IHOP in Ward 1, the Columbia Heights section of Washington. What does Jackson enjoy most about being a franchisee?
“I think employing over 100 people who run the spectrum in terms of background,” he said. “We’ve got retired military officers, ex-convicted felons, single moms and single dads, people who have been able to get off of public assistance.
“We’ve got college students, recent high school grads, high school students who we employ in the summer time. So being able to employ our community and have an impact in terms of lowering our unemployment rate and giving people an opportunity to earn a living and in many cases get off to a good start on their own, makes us feel really good.”