College of the Redwoods


Cal Poly Humboldt

College Matters | Sometimes we can only teach justice. We need the community to call for it.

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Friday, April 30, 2021 - 2:50am

Dr. Tom Jackson is a university president. He is also a person. A spouse. A veteran. And many other things. Of all those things, he has memories. Memories of joy and memories of perseverance. Without question, one of the more challenging, but truly loving and selfless roles, has been that of father.

Within the first minutes of his son’s life, he was blessed to be able to hold him close. He vividly remembers his son wrapped in his blanket as he sat in a rocking chair. As he laid him on his chest he was overcome. He was this beautiful child’s Dad, and like many parents, there wasn’t much he would not do for his son.

As TJ grew up, he liked to climb, ride bikes, swim, and play the piano. He was a natural in the water. His parents would sit patiently and listen to their son practice his music. Over time, he became very good and found inspiration and peace as he played. It was magical to watch.

As he grew older his other interests were replaced by rock climbing, and every chance he had, he would climb. College classes seemed to get in the way of climbing, taking photographs, and being with close friends.

Charmaine Lawson is a friend, auntie, community activist, and advocate for justice. Perhaps above all, she is a mother.

When her son, David Josiah (DJ) was 2 1/2 years old, he first met his new baby brother (Anthony) just home from the hospital. DJ looked at his brother, looked at Ms. Lawson, and then said to his mother that he wanted her to return his baby brother back to the hospital because he did not want to share his ‘Mommy.” As the big brother, he immediately became Anthony’s protector and best friend.

DJ loved soccer, and his first soccer game was when he was about 5 years old. He was so excited, he could barely contain himself. He scored the first goal in the game. Unfortunately, he kicked it into the other team’s goal.

DJ was always college-bound. College was the first step toward his dream of a career in law and politics to serve the underserved and people of color. DJ was excited about HSU. The campus was not impacted and he wanted to be somewhere that allowed him to graduate within four years so that he could move forward. He was very ambitious and determined to accomplish his dreams. DJ was eager and ready to embark on his career goals. He also had a fascination with trees, the ocean, and the rainy climate. He could not wait to see the giant Redwood trees. DJ spent time in Jamaica, where his Mom is from and in Germany, both feeding his love of the outdoors.

When DJ went to HSU, Ms. Lawson felt overjoyed, blessed, and thankful that he made it. Their hard work and sacrifice had paid off. Ms. Lawson knew DJ was an exceptional student and son, and was setting an important example for his younger siblings. Ms. Lawson taught her children family values and the importance of being educated.


Both of us belong to a small group of parents — those who have lost a beautiful child far too early in their life. When our sons died tragically it was completely heartbreaking. As parents we cried, and still do. We also know that our sons’ friends, siblings, and other family members are still in pain.

Despite this closeness in loss we share, the Jacksons will heal over time and feel blessed knowing the matter is resolved. The Jackson family can find some peace in knowing what happened to their son, and their family has begun the long healing process.

For the Lawson family, there remains no resolution. This family remains tormented not only by the feeling that this case may not be resolved, but that it might not be resolved for systemic or racial reasons. This compounds their heartbreak.

Perhaps you can only imagine losing a grandchild, son, or daughter. There is no more profound loss than the potential of a young, creative life. Imagine how much worse it must feel knowing that justice has not yet been served and quite possibly, your child’s murderer may end up free in society without consequence. Continue to imagine that, despite your efforts, the hard work of many, the presence of DNA evidence, and a community advocating for justice, this remains out of the courtroom and without resolution. This is what the Lawson family endures.

As a parent, what lengths would you go to fighting for your child? This is a kind community that feels for each other. Please love your children, and love all children in our community as if they were yours. And when they need you to, fight for justice for them. Help the Lawson family and this community find peace. Advocate for a trial and come forward if you know something. There remains a $100,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in this case.

Be well.

Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the president of Humboldt State University and father of Thomas “TJ” Jackson. Charmaine Lawson is a community activist and mother of Josiah “DJ” Lawson.