Justin Jackson was all too happy to put vanity aside Wednesday.
Locks of Jackson’s hair tumbled to the ground outside the Asheville High cafeteria.
The former Roberson baseball star was among the individuals who plopped down in a chair outside the Asheville cafeteria to have their heads shaved during a lunchtime charity event titled “Haircuts for Cancer.”
It was by far the most public and personal trip to the barber of Jackson’s life.
His mother, Trina, teaches cosmetology and career management in the Asheville City Schools system. She is one of at least five individuals on the Asheville High faculty who have battled cancer in the past year.
Trina Gragg-Jackson discovered a lump on one of her breasts while taking a shower and was diagnosed in April.
She is now cancer-free and was the one who brandished the shears that cut her oldest son’s hair. Donations were accepted from students and teachers who witnessed the haircuts during first and second lunch at Asheville.
“My mom is the strongest lady I know,” Justin Jackson said.
“It’s been great to see the way she’s handled this. From day one, she knew she was going to beat this. It’s been a great reminder for everyone in our family of how precious life is. It puts a whole lot of things in perspective.”
Jackson recently completed his seventh year in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He was the Citizen-Times All-WNC Player of the Year as a high school senior and selected with the 45th overall pick of the 2007 major-league draft.
Jackson received the news of his mom’s cancer while undergoing an already-stressful change, professionally. The Blue Jays have converted Jackson into a pitcher after he previously played in the infield and outfield for their minor-league teams.
Jackson appeared in 33 games this past season for Single-A Dunedin (Fla.) and Lansing (Mich.) and had a 0-2 record with 3.26 earned run average and 34 strikeouts in 49.2 innings pitched. Jackson’s fastball has been clocked as high as 97 miles per hour.
“I knew that if my mom could beat this thing, then surely I can do well as a pitcher,” Jackson said.
“Even with all she was going through, she was still there to give me encouragement.”
The idea for Wednesday’s head-shaving event came from Laura Westbrook, who teaches across the hall from Trina Gragg-Jackson.
Gragg-Jackson, 48, said her breast cancer (triple-negative) is the same kind that “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts has dealt with.
“Something I really want to express, especially to women of color, is please do a better job of checking yourself,” Gragg-Jackson said.
“I am so thankful for my family who really took care of me and got me through this situation. It was a whirlwind. You don’t want to interrupt your children’s lives especially when one of them is going through such an important thing in their (professional) life as Justin. He just told me, ‘Mom, I’m going to do this pitching thing and you’re going to beat cancer. We’re going to get through this.'”
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“Both of my parents passed away from cancer,” Westbrook said.
“I realized we could take dinners to the teachers (at Asheville) who have been affected by this. But I wanted to do what I could to show them that they have the support of our students and get everyone here involved in awareness. I just want to show as much love as I can to my friends here. If we raise money for these kinds of things, then hopefully we won’t have to fight these kinds of battles in the future.”
Assistant football coach Charlie Metcalf is among the Asheville faculty members affected by cancer. Cougars football players began wearing lime green wristbands to support Metcalf’s fight with lymphoma last month.
Former Asheville student Adrian Tinsley, who is now a barber, assisted in the head-shaving.