When her twin boys were born in 1990, Lyle Jackson named them after men she would hope they would one day be like.
One boy, she named Lorne, after the actor Lorne Greene — best known for his role as Ben Cartwright, the gentle patriarch on the classic television series Bonanza.
She named the other child Langston after the influential Black poet Langston Hughes.
“(I admired) his creativity,” Lyle said of Hughes. “And his passion in the way he wrote.”
Langston Jackson ’19 (Liberal Studies) shared that trait. He wrote poetry and music in high school. And he found another passion — football.
Langston earned notoriety and popularity as a star running back for the Simi Valley High School football team. In fall 2007, his senior year, he eclipsed the magical 1,000-yard mark in rushing yards.
Growing up, his first dream was to work with animals — influenced by his time spent at animal summer camps at Moorpark College when he was a youth.
But, even though it was a longshot, Langston wanted to become a pro football player. And late in his senior year, he received an offer to join the University of California Berkeley football team. Cal — a Pac-12 power — has produced 272 NFL players. Langton’s role, however, started on the practice squad, and after three seasons with the team and three years at Cal, he had become academically ineligible. He returned home to Simi Valley in 2011 to enroll in community college.
A few years later, Langston was a longshot again. And this time, he overcame overwhelming odds — surviving a near-death experience and ultimately finding triumph by earning a bachelor’s degree with support from numerous campus resources at CSUN.
It was during high school that Langston was introduced to drugs. Lyle said she had no idea, until one day noticing her son’s unusual behavior. When Langston returned home from Cal, his drug abuse continued. Ultimately, he went to a rehabilitation center. In 2013, while at the rehab center, Lyle said Langston got a hold of some heroin and overdosed. The lack of oxygen to his brain and compromised kidney and liver function severely debilitated Langston, and he went into a coma.
In the first days in a Los Angeles hospital, the Jackson family was told by the hospital’s intensive care unit medical director that his chances of waking up again and having a normal life were very small. A best-case scenario was that he’d be in a persistent vegetative state.
That scene was filmed for a BBC program called “Louis Theroux’s LA Stories.” By happenstance, Theroux and his crew were at the hospital searching for a story about the impact of drugs around the time that Langston was admitted. The Jackson family allowed Theroux to film Langston’s fight for life.
In the program, Langston’s sister Ashley challenges the doctor’s opinion — saying Langston is a fighter, and that he is stubborn.
It turned out, Langston Jackson would embody a poem from Langston Hughes — the writer, social activist and central figure of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.
The poem is called “Still Here.”
I been scarred and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
Snow has friz me,
Sun has baked me,
Looks like between ’em they done
Tried to make me
Stop laughin’, stop lovin’, stop livin’—
But I don’t care!
I’m still here!
After 37 days, Langston miraculously woke up from the coma. He slowly began to talk. He slowly began to walk.
“Voices,” Langston said on if he remembers anything from the coma. “That was it.”
Those voices of encouragement continued. First, in his rehabilitation at the hospital. And nearly a year later, when his mother encouraged him to go back to school. She also suggested a familiar place — CSUN. Lyle earned a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from CSUN in 1981 and was a product of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP).
The path for Langston would be difficult — as expected.
Langston will always have cognitive issues because of permanent damage to his frontal lobe. He also has mobility challenges and suffered hearing loss.
However, CSUN had resources for him to meet every challenge.
Prior to enrolling in classes, Langston utilized CSUN’s Music Therapy Wellness Clinic. The clinic provides individually designed music activities to treat children and adults with disabilities and special challenges.
“It made a huge impact,” Langston said. “That was the whole reason why I wanted to go back to school.”
He also received physical therapy through CSUN’s Brown Center at the Center of Achievement. When he began therapy, Langston still had bedsores on his feet, making every step painful. But the physical therapy helped him move better and balance. And it had a side benefit.
“That therapy made me more social with my peers,” Langston said. “It helped me to start working out again and getting in shape. It helped me get my walk, my gait right.”
The Jackson family sought out more resources, and Langston had other centers on campus that lifted him, and thus led him toward a degree. He received notetaking, technology and tutoring services from the National Center on Deafness and Disability Resources and Educational Services.
“It takes a village, and they’re my village,” Langston said.
As Langston neared his final classes in 2019, the difficulty — physically, emotionally and mentally — made him think about quitting.
But he remembered his mom repeating three words: “One more class.”
In spring 2019, Langston walked the steps of the CSUN Library and was handed his diploma. In the fall of 2019, he completed his degree and earned a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies.
“I always told Langston that was the most important part of his story, that he finish school,” Lyle said. “The most important thing he could have learned was to talk about his challenges and find the resources to overcome his challenges because the resources don’t come to you unless you’re able to say what your challenges are.
“For the first time he was really able to advocate, and he had to be willing to use the services he was given. And that took a minute because he didn’t want to be different from anybody. But to be able to succeed and finish, he had to embrace everything he was given at CSUN. And those are the tools he’s going to have to use for the rest of his life to be successful and be as independent as he possibly can.”
Langston said he’s hoping for a career in music. But he also wants to travel and tell his story.
He recognizes the mistakes he made. And he recognizes that some may be critical of the choices he made in the past. But he wants to be an example — of what not to do with one’s life, and what one should do.
In a prepared speech that he has given at schools and church about his journey, there are a few lines at the bottom that say all that in other words:
“I’m not what happened to me. I’m what I chose to be! Just because you made a mistake doesn’t mean you are a mistake!”