When Skai Jackson arrives for her photo shoot with Elite Daily, she comes with a copy of her new autobiography in hand. She sits for a good five minutes watching as I flip through the first chapter, cooing over every adorable baby photo contained within. The idea of watching someone flip through my baby photos sounds like a nightmare, but Jackson is unbothered. She got her big break at 9 years old on Disney Channel's hit show Jessie and she's been in the spotlight ever since, so she's used to this. While separating herself from her childhood persona was once something Jackson struggled with, it's not anymore. She's got bigger things to worry about, like cyberbullies and the constant prospect of her latest Instagram becoming another viral meme. Y'know, normal teen things. Skai Jackson is a voice for her generation, and her new autobiography is just one way she's sharing her story with the world.
"It used to bother me when [fans] used to call me Zuri," Jackson says after she bangs out her photo shoot in 15 minutes flat (this girl knows her angles). Jackson played the imaginative, wise-cracking Zuri Ross on Disney Channel's Jessie and its spinoff, Bunk'd, for eight years. "People couldn’t separate that Zuri was a character and that I’m just me."
Jackson realized pretty quickly that getting angry was futile, especially since she loves the legacy she was able to create with her character. "They watch me on TV and that’s what they are used to hearing at all times, so I don’t really get mad anymore," she says.
Jackson's zen attitude doesn't mean she's not pushing back when necessary, though. She's not shy about keeping it real with her 6 million Instagram followers. "[I'll be] like, 'Guys, I understand you love seeing me and I was on Jessie, but you have to understand that [Zuri and I are] two separate things." One of the most common comments Jackson gets from longtime fans is she's not as innocent as Zuri. "I’m like, 'Well it’s Disney Channel ... a person doesn’t act like this in real life,'" she says.
Thanks to her presence on social media, however, fans are starting to understand who Jackson is in the real world. Jackson has been navigating her way through social media fame (and all the drama and bullying that comes with it) since she was 11 years old.
"Bullying has kind of always been in my life," she says. "I never really understood. Like, why are these people saying such mean things about me? They don’t even know me. I used to be so mad about it. I used to argue with them in the comments. But then I realized, these people don’t know me ... I have more supporters rather than haters."
Jackson's support system has undoubtedly played a huge part in how she's managed to deal with the pressures of cyberbullying. One of those sources of support was Jackson's late Jessie co-star, Cameron Boyce, who died suddenly from a seizure as a result of epilepsy on July 6, 2019.
Boyce left his mark on the world — and especially on Jackson. "He didn’t necessarily have to say anything for me to learn from him. It was just so much in his actions," she says. "He really taught me, it’s really not that serious. If you were in an argument with Cameron, it would literally be for two minutes and then he would give you a big hug, because that's not the important thing in life ... I was already a nice person, but you could always go the extra mile ... I’m so glad I was around him for five years straight."
Jackson shares Boyce's outlook on dealing with drama. When a simple, pretty photo of Jackson sitting in a blue dress went viral as the "Petty Skai Jackson" meme back in 2016, Jackson wasn't sure how to feel about it at first. "I was like, 'Is that something I should be mad about? Are they making fun of me?'" But she quickly decided it's really not that serious.
"Obviously, they are making fun of me, but not in a terrible way... Ariana Grande’s a meme and all these big people are. So it’s really not a [big] thing," she says. "It got really funny to me."
Whether she's being misunderstood by her fans, getting cyber-bullied, or experiencing loss, Jackson learns a lesson every step of the way, and she's laid them all out in her autobiography, Reach For The Skai: How To Inspire, Empower, And Clapback. Jackson has a wise-beyond-her-years ability to compartmentalize hate she gets on social media with the maturity of someone... well, honestly, I don't know many people who can deal with the level of hate Jackson does with grace at any age. So, if the first thing you thought when you found out Jackson wrote an autobiography was, "What the heck can a teenager possibly teach me about life?" consider that question asked and answered, because, damn. Skai Jackson has this self-confidence thing down.
Photography: Lauren Perlstein
Hair: Sabrina Norman
Makeup: Billie Jean