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Naked and NSU Proud

In 2017, Jermaine Jackson ’97 found himself naked and shivering in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee as rain fell on the foliage around him. Jackson, an avid outdoorsman, had signed up for a 21-day challenge of survival against the elements as part of the Discovery Channel program Naked and Afraid.The popular reality show involves one man and one woman—who are paired and meet for the first time in the nude. They are required to survive in the wilderness only equipped with a few tools and have to gather their own food, build a shelter and sometimes make their own clothing.

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Jackson and his partner, Teal Bulthuis, an Air Force master sergeant, appeared in Episode 9 of Season 9, which first aired May 6, 2018, with 1.6 million viewers. It’s an experience that Jackson says, he will never forget. During their 21 days, they battled cold and rainy weather, ate mostly fruit and chestnuts and encountered at least one black bear.

“As soon as we got to Tennessee, it started raining,” says Jackson. “The forest acted as a canopy so the temperature dropped to very cold conditions if you’re not wearing clothing. Being naked in 40-degree weather is no joke, and we both ended up getting hypothermia. It was so cold, that we both ruptured our skin capillaries.”

Why did Jackson want to appear on the show? One reason was to showcase his outdoor skills, but there was a reason that held a deeper meaning.

“I wanted to defy the stereotypes out there about black men and the outdoors,” Jackson says. “If you watch television, you don’t see us out there much camping, fishing ... living off of the land. I wanted to honor my father too, but to also prove to everyone out there that African-Americans can do it and excel at it.”

Originally from Triangle, Virginia, Jackson grew up in a family home where the outdoors were always around him. When he was a child, it wasn’t an unusual or gross sight when he would watch James Jackson, his late father, slaughter a deer, clean it and then put it inside the refrigerator.

James Jackson was also a member of the Seafarers Yacht Club, one of the oldest African-American yacht clubs in the United States, and taught Jermaine Jackson about aquatics and how to be comfortable on land and sea. His love for not only nature, but how to survive in it, continued as Jackson later moved to Stafford County, Virginia, and entered the Cub and Boy Scouts, later achieving the rank of Eagle Scout — the highest rank offered to a scout — when he was 17.

“My father always thought it was important for me to learn how to live off the land,” says Jackson. “Academics were very important in our household, but my parents also wanted us to know how to fend for ourselves if we ever were in a jam.”

Love for Norfolk State

When Jackson arrived at Norfolk State after high school, he was already familiar with the campus because he would visit his older sister, Janeen (Jackson) Clark ’94, a former Miss NSU, when she was a student. An English education major, Jackson found a love for radio and joined WNSB Hot 91.1, the campus radio station, and eventually hosted a radio program. “I forget the name of the show, but I do remember that I would play obscure records that no one would expect on the station.

“The great thing about Norfolk State, and this still holds true today, is that it’s a place where you can express who you are. Everybody has their own thing and that is okay, you’re still a Spartan no matter what.”

Today, Jackson works as a wound care specialist and executive sales representative at MiMedx, a biopharmaceutical company that develops regenerative tissues for individuals afflicted with ailments such as diabetes, cancer or joint issues, who are at risk of potentially losing limbs.

“I am very far removed from secondary education, but I have been very blessed,” Jackson says. “I give the credit to Norfolk State because had I not went there, I would not have the opportunities I have right now.”

From the Wilderness to Celebrity Live

Since Jackson’s appearance on Naked and Afraid, he has become a celebrity in his California town and become popular with the Norfolk State University community. “I get approached at the grocery store, when I pick the kids up from school, pretty much everywhere. I never expected this much attention.”

As far as upcoming television appearances, Jackson remained mum, but he did say he is open to showcasing his outdoor talents to a mass audience. Jackson says eventually, he would like to organize survivalist camps for disadvantaged youth in California.

As the dog days of summer approached in August, Jackson mulled over two options about how he would spend his final summer vacation: meet up with other Norfolk State University alumni in Las Vegas for a weekend or go tuna fishing off the coast of Tijuana, Mexico. The decision was easy. He hitched up a boat to the back of his pick-up truck and headed south.

-photos courtesy of Jermaine Jackson