Christopher Jackson: Connected to His Roots

In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical Hamilton, actor, composer, and lyricist Christopher Jackson plays George Washington, the upright general and leader. Offstage, he’s happily married and the father of two kids, daughter Jadelyn and son C.J., who was diagnosed with autism in 2007. “The more I share with the world [about autism], the better,” Jackson told the New York Daily News in 2016. “I’m all about raising awareness and using whatever notoriety that I have to bring the issue to bear.”

Jackson enjoys plenty of notoriety right now, thanks to the phenomenal success of Hamilton. But the actor remains humble. Raised in Cairo, Illinois, by Solo Mom Jane Adams after his parents divorced, Jackson stays connected to his roots. “There’s no place like home,” the actor shared in the Southern Illinoisan early in 2016. “I’ve been in New York for 22 years. But this is not where I’m from.”

On growing up in Cairo, Jackson told that he “knew almost every family. My mom taught at the high school my whole life, so there was a direct connection to almost everyone I came in contact with.” If life wasn’t picture perfect—“Being near the south, there certainly were elements of not-so-happy times from the recent past”—there was hope: “[T]here was this understanding that change was inevitable and steady. As kids, there was the awareness that a caring eye was always watching and that built a foundation and a confidence in me that I could go anywhere in the world and be fearless . . . because there was always home.”

In Cairo, home included Jackson’s grandma, who helped raise him and his older sister while Adams was finishing college, and who cherished high hopes for her grandson. “[My grandma] dreamt big things for me,” Jackson said during a interview. “But she never dreamt that moment,” he added, referring to his opportunity to sing for President Obama in the East Room of the White House, a portrait of George Washington hanging nearby on the wall.

Jackson himself may not have dreamed how high he’d fly when he graduated from Cairo High in 1993 and moved to New York to pursue acting at the prestigious American Musical and Dramatic Academy. His Broadway break came in 2008 with the role of Benny in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning musical In the Heights. In 2011, Jackson won an Emmy Award for the song “What I Am,” written with Bill Sherman for Sesame Street and performed by and Muppet pals. And at the time of this writing, he had been nominated for a Tony award, along with several Hamilton castmates. (The production received 16 nominations total.)

What has it meant to the actor to play Washington, night after night? “It’s all hard, it’s all beautiful,” Jackson told NBC News. “It empties you out every day, and it fills you right back up the next time you go back in. It’s a really extraordinary experience.”

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