A global pandemic, social justice issues, election coverage and lost loved ones. In a year that has been increasingly negative, Lenoir-Rhyne University alumnus Robert "Bobby" Jackson chooses to focus on the positive, and he's on a mission to bring that positivity to others.
He's taking life's lemons and making lemonade.
A 2008 graduate, Jackson has embarked on a When Life Gives You Lemons Tour 2020, traveling the country with a two-fold purpose of raising money for a headstone at the grave of his grandmother and to spread a little bit of kindness in what for many has been an abysmal year.
"I came up with this concept on a bus ride from Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls in Argentina," Jackson said. "2020 has been horrible, so what better time than now to add some positivity to the world."
Man on a Mission
The goal is to raise $6,729.
For the last 11 years, Jackson has lived in Australia working at a brewery in Melbourne. When his grandma, Evelyn "Granny B" Bahret passed away this summer, he returned for the funeral.
"They didn't have money for a headstone," he said. "I couldn't live in a world without a headstone for my grandmother. She meant everything to me, so I had to do something about it."
So he put the When Life Gives You Lemons Tour 2020, into action. For every dollar he raises, 19.32 percent — in remembrance of the year she was born — goes toward a headstone for Granny B. The rest goes toward random acts of kindness to complete strangers.
The original goal was to visit each of the lower 48 states in 49 days in a trip that he estimated would cover approximately 12,000 miles.
"Australia closed its borders after a spike in COVID-19," he said. "But they have a pretty friendly leave policy, especially when you've been someplace for nine years. I put in for a long service leave, and off I went."
He bought a Yamaha Vstar 950 from a nurse off Facebook marketplace and left for the tour on Aug. 13.
Jackson said he doesn't like it when charities accept money and never show where it goes. He is paying for his own expenses the entire way. All gas, food and lodging has come out of his own pocket, so every cent donated goes to help someone else. Everyone who donates to the tour, submits a photo or video that he in turn shows to the person he helps. The person who is helped then takes a photo or video that Jackson shows the donor.
"You'd be amazed at how hard it is to buy people stuff," he said. "I was at a Bob Evans fully intent on buying someone breakfast. Sitting behind me was a husband, wife and two kids. One of them was named Bobby, so I said it was an omen, but he wouldn't accept it.
"Then I tried to buy breakfast for three little ladies, but they refused. They said they didn't know what would happen to their photos on the internet. The waitress heard what I was doing, and she paid for my breakfast. She refused to give me my bill. I said, 'No, this is totally backward.'"
Random Act of Kindness
In New York, he bought soccer cleats for a pair of kids at a Dick's Sporting Goods. In Nevada, he bought a tank of gas for a woman named Norine. He came across a couple in Utah on their way to a funeral in Oregon, and he bought them lunch at Subway to try and raise their spirits.
He met the owner of O'Hara's Pub, which stood just down the street from the World Trade Center in New York City.
"It survived when the towers came down pretty much on top of it," Jackson said. "I went in there to tip a waitress. I got an $8 beer and left a $60 tip. We got to talking and the owner got involved. He was in the pub when the towers collapsed and was trapped in there."
It was a tremendous experience, although as he puts it the trip, "wasn't all rainbows and unicorns."
In Texarkana, the sprinklers at a truck stop turned on with everything he had laying out in the open as he scrambled to cover them up. Due to a high number of COVID-19 cases in the Navajo Nation, he was forced to detour around the reservation in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. His bike blew a tire, and he got stuck in a mud hole on a mountain road on the outskirts of Jackson, Wyoming as people drove by.
"I didn't tell that to my mom because I didn't want her to worry," he said.
The journey has certainly been a special once, which doesn't surprise Jackson's LR Bears family.
"Bobby was always an out-of-the-box thinker," said Lenoir-Rhyne Senior Associate Athletic Director and Head Athletic Trainer Michael Flicker. "He was always doing things that were different than most. He never really conformed to what others thought, and I mean that in the best possible way."
Jackson was a two-time recipient of the David A. Moose scholarship, which is given to a football player who best exemplifies hard work, academics, exemplary character and leadership.
"In 2020, Bobby is still proving that he was deserving of that award," Flicker said. "To have someone with a kind heart and the character that he does, it's what we strive for in all of our student-athletes. I'm proud of what he's doing.
"I just lost a grandmother, and I was really close to my other grandmother. It was easy for me to donate to someone who is doing random acts of kindness in honor of his grandmother."
Jackson was in Hickory, North Carolina, on Monday, Sept. 21 to catch up with old friends, rest for a bit and visit Lenoir-Rhyne to help a student in need having visited 46 states in 40 days with just South Carolina and Georgia remaining and less than $1,500 needed to reach his goal.
"It has taught me you can't take news as the gospel. It was pretty eye-opening seeing everything on the news and how it is in real life," Jackson said. "I drove through Portland to see how bad it was with the riots, and it was fine. Families were out walking the streets like normal. All you hear about California is how bad the air quality is and that you can't be outside. I was in Sacramento, and it was beautiful. Kids were playing on jungle gyms."
He has plans to close out the tour with a few larger acts of kindness, such as a new set of tires on a family vehicle.
"If I were still in Australia, I'd be going insane," he said. "They have curfews, and you're not allowed outside after 8 p.m., so this trip has helped scratch that adventure itch, but it's also restored my faith in humanity."
To help Jackson meet his goal, visit his When Life Gives You Lemons — Make Lemon Aid gofundme page, or follow his journey on Instragram: @lemonaid20.