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Fight or Flight

JackieMcCoy remembers that day at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. “I was mad when they said that God needed angels in heaven like my Mom. And, I thought, ‘How in the world does God need my Mom more than I need her right now.’”

I spent a lot of time feeling lost. Six years being mad at God. I was done with God. I was just going to talk to Jesus.”

Before Jean Grant died, Jackie was a carefree kid growing up on Beacon Hill in Seattle: playing with friends, riding bikes up and down Beacon, chasing those boys who’d pull her long hair. The youngest of two daughters to Jim, a longshoreman, and Jean, a social worker, Jackie took after her Mom. “I’ve always been the person who takes care of other people in my family.”

When Jackie was 12, her Mom told the girls she had breast cancer. She died two years later, on Jim’s birthday, and they flew back to Mississippi for a huge funeral. “My Mom was very sweet and kind. I’d hear stories of her growing up in the South, going fishing, taking care of her cousins.” Her Dad and Sister were devastated, but “…growing up in an African-American family, we didn’t talk about these things.”

The carefree girl grew up fast, and as a teenager she needed to make meals for herself and clean the house. “I learned that the world is a scary place, and I would fight or flight.” As a 16-year-old she stepped on a sewing needle, which broke off in her left foot, causing permanent nerve damage. There were surgeries, hours alone, fights at school. For years, Jackie would either battle, filled with blind fury, or shut down.

Then she had Rashawn.

“He made me grow up.” Jackie was 23, had been seeing Bill, and got pregnant. They didn’t move in together, and chose to co-parent their son. “We always said that if lived together, someone was going to go to jail and someone was going to hell,”Jackie says with a laugh.

Jackie did clerical work, served as a care-giver, raised her son and “…kept a lot of other families’ kids out of CPS.” Like her Mom, she spent her time looking after others. But that changed in 2005: she was in a long-term relationship, and they were going to move to Louisiana to be closer to her extended family. Their boxes were packed, but they didn’t account for Hurricane Katrina. So, they waited.

Then a knock at the door. Rashawn, then 20, and his 18-year-old girlfriend Crystal, with six-week-old Rashawn William McCoy Jr., called RJ. They needed help. They couldn’t do it. Jackie thought, “Oh my God. Now I’m not going to get to where I need to go.”

JackieMcCoy did not go to Louisiana. She stayed to help raise RJ. Her partner left her, uninterested in putting their dreams on hold for someone else’s kid. She remembers trying to potty train a stubborn RJ in the bathroom: he was crying on the toilet, and she was crying on the floor. She couldn’t believe she was back there again.

For the last sixteen years, she’s been raising RJ in Everett along with Crystal’s aunt. Today he goes to Everett High School and is a “…sweet young man.” But, he’s still a teen, and he knows that his Grandma is not to be trifled with. He was complaining about last Christmas to his friends, and she gave him that look and said, “You’re going to be able to tell them you got a video game and a neck brace.”

The pandemic wreaked havoc on Jackie, and for nearly two years she went all “flight” and no “fight.” She stayed in, only venturing out for doctor’s appointments and physical therapy, until one day two Gipson Center staff came to her apartment complex. Gul & April invited her to the Center, and “…I got up the courage to come here. I find that this is a place that I can meet people. Everyone is nice.”

“I am introverted, but I’m like a social butterfly now. This is somewhere I feel safe; it goes back to that 12-year-old girl who was lost. I look forward to coming here every day.”

These days it’s hard to keep track of Jackie at the Center. Today she’s in Homage’s Black Seniors Community Outreach Group. Yesterday she was in the knitting group, then in Bingo, and tomorrow it might be coloring and Canasta.

“I’m no longer stuck in the house. This Center makes me feel like I don’t have to ‘flight’ anymore.”


The Carl Gipson Center is one of VOAWW’s 8 service areas and supports those aged 50 and up in Everett and the surrounding communities. With the help of donors and volunteers, members at the Center can stay active, learn skills, have a meal, and find a place to belong. To donate, visit

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