Fred Davis Jackson, the man who brings Santa Claus to life for low-income families in North Richmond each December, is known for his hearty laugh, humor and smile.
Every year right before winter break, Jackson dons a red suit and hands out gifts and coats to children at Verde Elementary School. Jackson's impeccably trimmed and unmistakable white whiskers sometimes give him away to children who know him from the neighborhood, but they don't want to take any chances that this Santa isn't the real deal.
"I love Santa. I love playing Santa. I love the mystique," said Jackson, a 72-year-old retiree who has found a second career as a community activist.
"I'd like to be a real Santa, a 365-day-a-year Santa," he said. "What we should do is put Santa in our hearts and be Santa every day. Let it be Christmas every day of the year."
There is, indeed, a touch of Santa in Jackson's heart, but behind his smile and humor is a reflective person who has dedicated himself to working for equality and harmony.
Jackson sets a high standard when it comes to the figures who have influenced his activism.
Among them is Martin Luther King Jr., who Jackson met when he was in the military in Georgia in the 1960s.
"That's when I decided to sit in at a lunch counter," Jackson said. "I didn't get served, of course, but I felt it was good to do that."
Another is President John F. Kennedy, who came to Germany when Jackson was stationed there in 1963. "He ate in our mess hall," Jackson said. "It was amazing to be so close to him."
Jackson also cites the several years he was employed picking crops alongside migrant farm workers as the reason he idolizes Cesar Chavez.
"The irony is that I was working for chump change for myself and those migrant workers were trying to feed whole families on what they made," he said. "People ask me why I'm so strong about immigration, that's the reason. It broadened me."
Jackson works tirelessly to exemplify the ideals and inspiration of his role models for newer generations that have not had such heroes.
This year alone he has been recognized for his advocacy on behalf of seniors and young people alike, as well as his efforts to find common ground among communities whose differences have led to conflict and violence.
"I believe we are connected by a common thread," Jackson said. "When God says, 'Who is thy neighbor,' we are all neighbors. You've got to love everybody. We're still sisters and brothers in one family."
Jackson has pursued activism nearly full time since 1993 as the community resource coordinator for Neighborhood House of North Richmond.
His work to improve the community's quality of life has made him a familiar figure to elected officials, community leaders, clergy and people on the street.
Jackson is chairman of the Economic Opportunity Council, an advisory panel to the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors. He is on the board of Richmond Main Street Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the revitalization of the city's historic downtown, and was a central figure in the creation of a senior housing complex on Macdonald Avenue.
With Neighborhood House, he actively promotes the Kaiser Permanente-sponsored Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) initiative to members of the faith community so they can impart the goals to their congregations.
As a North Richmond resident, he is dedicated to showing young people alternatives to violence and a frequently "fatalistic view of life."
This year, Jackson was one of four county residents honored by the California Senior Leaders program, sponsored by the California Wellness Foundation and the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, and was nominated for the Sargent Shriver Achievement Award and the Jayne Thomas Grassroots Volunteer Recognition Award, both national honors.
Jackson, a retired manager for Pacific Bell, said that even while growing up he was a peacemaker among his classmates and family, first while on a farm nine miles outside McComb, Miss., and later when his family came to the East Bay, where he graduated from Richmond Union High School in 1957.
Today, Jackson delivers his message of "Fredology" through any means he can find. He has composed songs, penned plays and written books.
"My philosophy is 'people helping people,' that's how it's done," he said. "You can't do it alone. Those that help you up may have to catch you on the way down."
Hometown: North Richmond
Claim to fame: Community and civil rights activist
Education: Bachelor's degree in business administration from University of Phoenix
Quote: "When God says, 'Who is thy neighbor,' we are all neighbors. You've got to love everybody. We're still sisters and brothers in one family."
Hometown Heroes, a partnership between Bay Area News Group-East Bay and Comcast, celebrates people in the Bay Area who make a difference in their communities. In addition to highlighting remarkable individuals, the Hometown Heroes feature aims to encourage volunteerism, raise visibility of nonprofits and key causes in the area and create a spirit of giving.
Read about a new Hometown Hero every other Monday and watch the program on Comcast On Demand at Channel One-Get Local-Hometown Heroes.