Catching up with Shawon Jackson '15

Written by
Jocelyne Wijaya '26
Feb. 8, 2023

2021 Tiger Entrepreneur Award winner

Shawon Jackson '15 is the founder and CEO of Vocal Justice, whose mission is to cultivate learning conditions for Black and Brown youth so that they may advocate for social justice. 

In 2021, Shawon won the Tiger Entrepreneur Award, a prestigious award designed to celebrate the spirit of entrepreneurship within the Princeton community. Awarded by the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council (PEC), the award is given to early-career entrepreneurs who have a wide range of impact. 

Since then, Shawon has continued to cultivate the growth of Vocal Justice. Expanding its program, Vocal Justice now has hired five full time employees, employed 35 teachers across 17 states, and expanded its outreach to students across the U.S. 

In an interview with Shawon, I asked what sparked his interest in the intersection of entrepreneurship and social justice. 

"Social justice has always been a passion of mine, especially since high school and college,” said Shawon. "I knew it was going to be the north star that I wanted to go after. It was such a passion of mine because I saw and experienced different types of injustices and I was eager to utilize the privilege I had within my circles — through school in particular — to tackle some of those inequities," he added. 

To Shawon, entrepreneurship is a vehicle in which social inequities can be addressed. "When I think about entrepreneurship, I think about how it provides the autonomy to be creative in tackling problems," he explained. In addition to this autonomy, community has also been significant in furthering Vocal Justice’s mission. 

Recently, Vocal Justice has developed a leadership program with a strong emphasis on storytelling. "Storytelling helps our students feel connected to other people," Shawon elaborated. 

For example, Vocal Justice supports youth as they spread stories that emphasize the importance of restructuring education to address societal inequities. On the Vocal Justice website, they suggest "speaking at school board meetings about how to revamp education, leading rallies for climate justice, pushing for equitable hiring practices, and more."  They advocate that students work together within their communities to further this mission. 

"Community matters," said Shawon. "Even though Vocal Justice is building something on our own, we still go to existing organizations that we have worked with for a long time." 

As a social justice entrepreneur, Shawon has grown both professionally and personally. 

Prioritizing sustainability and well-being has been significant in enabling Shawon to continue with his work. Additionally, learning how to be specific with Vocal Justice’s values has helped in creating concrete organizational practices that have allowed the organization’s many teams to continue furthering their mission. 

Advising prospective entrepreneurs interested in utilizing entrepreneurship as a way to address social injustices, Shawon explained, "With entrepreneurship and social justice, there is no one way to do it — you can come up with so many different types of solutions that address the needs of a particular group."