Terrance Jackson earned a bad reputation as a young man.
He terrified people and engaged in regular gunfights. He was convicted of killing a 17-year-old during a drive-by shooting in 1988, and sentenced to four life terms.
But he turned his life around during his nearly 21-years in prison, friends said. He converted to Islam and felt an obligation to help the community when he was paroled in September 2010.
In March, Jackson, 43, joined the city’s anti-violence group — Aim4Peace — which employs ex-convicts to diffuse feuds and try to stop the cycle of retaliation and violence.
Jackson told co-workers every day that he felt blessed to have the opportunity to help people make positive changes in their lives.
On Friday, someone gunned down Jackson while he was working for Aim4Peace. He had taken a break about 8:45 p.m. and gone to the Epicurean Lounge at 75th Street and Troost Avenue, where he was fatally shot in the parking lot.
“That’s the irony,” said Alvin Brooks, a police board member who has known Jackson since a teenager. “He becomes a victim of what he was trying to prevent.”
Kansas City police don’t know what Jackson was doing at the Epicurean, who killed him or why.
Brooks said he chooses to believe that Jackson was leading a legitimate life.
Upon Jackson’s release from prison, he approached Brooks and said he wanted to do something to help keep young people out of trouble. Jackson also made amends with Brooks’ grandson, with whom he had a long-standing feud when they were teenagers. The grandson was “devastated” when he learned about Jackson’s death, Brooks said.
Jackson’s co-workers at Aim4Peace also were “torn-up” about his murder, said Jeff Hershberger, a spokesman for the city’s Health Department, which oversees the crime-fighting program.
“He was really an inspiration for the group — how he had turned things around,” Hershberger said. “They all worked together very closely. He had the full support of the team and the program.”
Jackson’s past helped him in his work for Aim4Peace, Hershberger said.
“He was able to tell people in the community, ‘I’ve changed. We can all change.’^”
Jackson worked as one of the city’s six “street intervention workers, “ or “interrupters” who mediated conflicts between gang members and recent shooting victims.
“He would talk to those who are grieving and angry so they could see there’s another way than retaliating violently,” Hershberger said.
The program tries to hire “culturally appropriate messengers” who have street-savvy and can command respect from people who have been affected by violence, Hershberger said.
The city conducts background checks and drug screens Aim4Peace workers to be sure they have genuinely started new lives. They also generally work in pairs, Hershberger said.
Although Jackson’s job was dangerous — he worked days and nights in volatile situations — his co-workers don’t believe his death was related to his work for the city.