Reach for the Skai
How to Inspire, Empower, and Clapback
Actress, activist, and now Dancing with the Stars competitor, Skai Jackson shares her lessons on life and her rise to stardom in this vibrant memoir about self-acceptance, girl empowerment, and the classy clapback.
Actress and activist Skai Jackson is a star! Her rise to fame started on the popular Disney Channel shows Bunk'd and Jessie. Her cool sense of style led her to create her own fashion line. And her success has made her a major influencer, with millions of followers on Instagram, who isn't afraid to stand up for what she believes in.
But being a teen celebrity isn't always glamorous. For the first time, Skai discusses the negative experiences that sometimes come with living in the spotlight--the insecurities about her appearance, the challenges of separating her real personality from her TV roles, and the bullying she's faced both personally and professionally. She knows firsthand the struggles tweens and teens face today, and she has found her calling as an antibullying activist, known as the queen of the classy clapback.
Skai is a positive force and a role model for inspiring change and embracing differences in others. Her story will encourage girls and boys alike to believe in themselves and to have the courage to reach for the sky and follow their dreams.
An Excerpt fromReach for the Skai
Sky, no, Skye. No, there are too many Skyes. I want to do something different. What’s another way to spell sky? Hmm . . . what rhymes with sky? Bye, dry, fly, lie, nigh, pie, sly, Thai . . .
That’s it! Skai!
The spelling Skai made sense to her. Because already, while I was in her belly, she knew I would be special. Not necessarily a star or celebrity, but an influencer. And it looks like she was right.
Let’s start out by agreeing on one thing: babies are cute. Even though they cry and need their diapers changed, their big beautiful eyes and infectious grins can light up a room and make even the most stone-faced person crack a smile. Add in their irresistible laughter, and you have an adorable baby. However, since everyone thinks their baby is pretty, my mom didn’t pay a lot of extra attention to people who told her that I was adorable. I mean, she’s from New York. Nothing fazes New Yorkers. Babies are cute. So what? #EverybodyKnowsThat #ButIReally WasCuteEvenIfIDoSaySoMyself
Apparently I never went through a fussy stage. When I was just five months old, my mom remembers people telling her that I was unusually friendly. I wasn’t like most babies and toddlers, who are shy and turn their face away from strangers, or try to hide behind their mother’s legs. When my mom would take me out in my stroller every day on a walk around Prospect Park, in Brooklyn, women would constantly talk to me because I was so friendly. Even the people at our favorite neighborhood restaurant thought I had a great personality. It seems like I was just born that way.
My mom spent a lot of time reading Parents magazine when I was a baby, and in one issue they ran a column where a mom asked how she could get her child into modeling. At first, my mom thought nothing of it, but when the next issue ran a list of modeling agencies, she was intrigued. My mom’s aunt gave her the courage to go for it. She thought maybe I could earn enough money as a model to pay for my college education.
My mom found some pictures she’d had taken of me at JCPenney the previous Christmas and sent them to two modeling agencies. In one set of pictures, I was wearing a fuzzy white jumper with a pink turtleneck, pale-gold shimmery tights, and pink boots with white fur around the top—they looked like little Uggs. In the second photo, I was sitting in a tin tub wearing just my diaper, with a pink-and-blue towel hanging out of it. Can’t you just see it? (I told you I was cute!) There was no way to be certain, of course, but my mom sensed that something amazing was about to happen.
Two weeks later, a famous agency, Wilhelmina Models, called. My mom was super excited and scheduled an in-person meeting with them for the next day. Then, two hours after Wilhelmina called, Generation Models contacted her. They were interested in me too! Having two prestigious modeling agencies wanting to represent you isn’t something that happens every day. But since she had already set up an appointment with Wilhelmina, my mom decided to work with them. I kicked off my professional modeling career when I was just nine months old.
Now, when a lot of people think of modeling, cool clothes, catwalks, and exotic locations come to mind. But I was too young for much of that, so let me give you a behind-the-scenes peek at how child modeling actually works. Companies hire modeling agencies to send them talent—that’s what they call us actors and models— to help them bring their creative ideas to life. The jobs can range from a print magazine ad or a television commercial to a movie—but that’s rare. The agencies then contact the talent who is the best fit for the client’s vision. When you’re sent on an audition for a modeling job, like being photographed for a magazine article or ad, that meeting is called a go-see. You go to get seen and interviewed for the job. Get it?
My first go-see was with Parenting magazine. They needed some baby photographs for an upcoming issue of another publication they owned, Babytalk. That’s where I came in. Just three days after I was signed by Wilhelmina, I got the gig!
The photo shoot took place one month later. That’s when they discovered that not only did I have a very interesting look, but on set I was incredibly easy to work with. The kid wranglers—the adults whose job it is to keep children safe and occupied until it’s time for them to go on set—smiled and helped my mom keep me entertained. Then when I got on set they would call, “Oh, Skai!” and make silly faces. Being the friendly and easygoing baby I was, I would smile, giggle, and laugh as the photographer captured my cutest moments.
Click! Click! Click!
A few months later, my picture appeared next to the magazine’s feature story. But you know the really funny thing? When they took my picture, I was all by myself on the set, and when the magazine came out, I was sitting between two other babies. It’s amazing what you can do with Photoshop! So that’s how my dream career began: sitting on a set with a bunch of grown-ups standing around trying to entertain me. Not a bad life!
I got another photo shoot for Babytalk right away. This time I had to sit in a high chair. My picture was used to illustrate an article. Only two months into my modeling career and I’d already worked two jobs. No Paris, Tracy Reese dress, or red-bottom shoes, but hey, I was still wearing a diaper! #MommyPleaseHurryUpAndChangeMe
Right after that, I booked an advertisement for Fisher-Price toys. It wasn’t long before I had several go-sees a week.
When I was three, my mom and I shot a cover together for Parenting magazine. Oh, wait a minute—I think I left that part out. My mom, did I tell you she’s very pretty? Sometimes clients would want to book both of us, but she always said no because she was trying to promote me, not herself. Anyway, for this shoot they dressed us in these really cute pink springtime outfits. When the issue was published, it became one of the highest-selling Parenting magazines ever. Because, totally randomly, that month the Live with Regis and Kelly TV show was having a contest where parents were invited to submit pictures of their baby in order to win an opportunity to be on the cover. So every day for two weeks, Kelly Ripa held up the issue with us on the front. Back then, it was almost unheard of for anyone Black to be on the cover of a magazine. So in addition to people buying the magazine so they could participate in the promotion, lots of Black mothers bought the issue so they could see a mommy and baby that looked like them. We were part of history, my mom and me. Which, now that I look back on it, is pretty amazing.