‘A good guy’: Vendor Joe Jackson dies at 46 

A Black man in a winter coat and hat smiles at the camera.

Joe Jackson was a Street Sense Media vendor. Street Sense file photo

Joseph “Joezon” Jackson, a Street Sense Media artist and vendor, died Aug. 19. He was 46. 

Jackson was born on March 24, 1977, in Druid, Alabama. He and his family moved to D.C. just two days later. 

His mother, Theresa Jackson, had her son when she was 14, and said she felt like she and Jackson grew up together. While Jackson sometimes struggled with some of the harsh realities of his mother’s situation, he and Theresa were very close. 

“It was Joe and me,” she said, remembering how protective Jackson was of her. 

Theresa remembers Jackson as a quiet, active child with a full head of hair. As a child, Jackson was determined for things to go his way and he’d make his displeasure known if they didn’t. Still, Theresa described him as being “good as gold” as a kid. Jackson started volunteering at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, where he and his siblings were baptized, when he was seven. He remained involved for the rest of his life. 

As he got older, though, Jackson began to run into trouble, stemming from a recurring struggle with addiction, Theresa said. 

Jackson went to prison and struggled to find work when he was released in 2013 after his first conviction. He joined Street Sense in August 2014, when a friend told him about the paper. Jackson wrote at the time that he felt this might be the opportunity to do better. He eventually received a housing voucher and moved into an apartment sometime between December of 2017 and 2018. 

Jackson often wrote about the difficulty of life with a record, once writing in Street Sense that he was submitting 10 job applications a day and still not receiving offers. 

“It’s hard coming from the federal system to nothing,” he wrote in 2016, “When I came home from prison, people looked at me as a waste of life. I don’t want to feel like that, because I feel I am a better person.” 

Jackson went to jail for the second time in 2020. Theresa said he found the experience extremely difficult. While in jail, he went through a devastating breakup and caught a severe case of COVID-19. Once he’d begun to recover, though, Jackson dedicated himself to Bible study and writing. He planned to write a book. 

Jackson ended his most recent sentence on Aug. 17. He immediately went to his mother. They spent the day together, listening to the music they’d always loved as he cooked her dinner. His mother braided his hair before he went out. Jackson promised her he’d be home by 10 p.m. He died of a drug overdose that night, Theresa said. The police informed her the next morning. 

Theresa held a service for Jackson on Sept. 2, at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, where he’d been baptized. 

His friends remember Jackson as a man who struggled to maintain a tough facade, but who had a deeply good heart. From his best friends to his uncle, every person Street Sense spoke to for this article began the conversation with the phrase “He was a good guy.” 

Jackson and his mother shared a love for music and dance. Jackson had a band in high school and played out of the garage with several friends. He and his band loved Go-Go legend Chuck Brown and Brown’s band the Soul Searchers. Whenever Brown’s “Run, Joe” came on, Jackson obeyed and ran, singing along. 

“Every time I hear that Chuck Brown song, I think of my son,” Theresa said. 

Jackson loved music that his mother called “oldies but goodies,” largely from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Her favorite memories are dancing together at home. Jackson carried his penchant for art into the rest of his life, dancing giddily in public even when he had headphones in and no one else could hear the music. “Joe learned to combine old-school dance [with] the latest dances out there, and he had his rhythm,” Theresa said. 

Jackson’s friends loved to watch him dance without inhibition, no matter where they were. Andre Brinson, a Street Sense vendor, said he used to think about posting videos of Jackson to the internet, sure that his kinetic energy had the potential to go viral. 

Brinson and Jackson became friends in 2016 when Jackson moved into Brinson’s old room in a housing project. They became close shortly after. “It was almost like [we were] brothers,” Brinson said. 

Brinson said he will miss Jackson’s distinct and carrying voice from the days they sold the paper together in Tenleytown. Brinson could hear Jackson’s voice hawking the paper from the Metro stop to where he stood down at Tenley Circle. 

Jackson loved the people in his Tenleytown community deeply. He frequently expressed his gratitude for his customers in his essays. 

“I want to thank everyone in Tenleytown for their kindness and generosity. You’ve given me your time. You’ve helped me in many ways. You’ve given me food. Thank you, thank you!” he wrote in 2017. 

Brinson admired Jackson’s ability to dedicate himself to his work, whether hawking the paper or working in the job corps. Brinson remembers waking up early with Jackson one day after heavy snowfall in D.C. and going door to door in Tenleytown, offering to clear people’s driveways of the snow. “He was definitely a worker,” Brinson said. 

Jackson often wrote about his struggle with the pains he experienced in his life, which his mom believes led him to struggle with addiction and his temper. His tough guy facade meant that it was often hard for others to get to know him, but once you were a part of Jackson’s inner circle, you were as good as family. 

“He had a lot of pain in his heart for some things that happened to him throughout his life,” Theresa said, “but if you needed anything he was the one to go to.” 

Few knew that better than Chon Gotti, a Street Sense vendor program associate and fellow artist. He remembered finding Jackson a bit “rude” and “disrespectful” when they first met. But once Jackson learned that Gotti grew up in the same neighborhood as his uncles, he immediately adopted Gotti as his uncle. Gotti laughed as he remembered Jackson convincing people that they were related. “You either loved him or hated him,” Gotti said, “and I loved him.” 

Gotti said he thought that Jackson’s pain made him who he was. “He had strength too, but… he was in a lot of pain.” Gotti thought that pain allowed Jackson to be too easily influenced by the “negative stuff.” 

Jackson often wrote about his dedication to learning to improve himself to earn a better life, trying to extricate himself from his addiction and anger issues. “I’m not a bad person, I just need to check my behavior and don’t worry about what people say about me,” Jackson wrote in a 2018 article

Before his second arrest, Jackson was working on staying clean. “And I want to thank God for my place. Because it is very hard to deal with mental health and addiction, when you don’t have no direction in life.” he wrote in 2020, “I stay home because most of my friends have died in D.C.’s streets, going to house parties or parties in the street. So, I don’t party anymore.” 

He continued to express more gratitude, “Love the people that love you because it is hard to find love and someone that cares. Peace be with everyone. Love everyone.” 

Jackson is survived by his mother, his younger brother, Anthony Tyrone Breed Jr., and his younger sister LaShawnda Jackson. 


You may donate to help Theresa pay for Jackson’s funeral service by contacting [email protected]


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