Jan 28, 2016

More than the typical artist, Jackie Holmes knows how to use her pain to create.

A student at the Academy of Arts in San Francisco whose family has roots in Richmond since the 1950s, Holmes, 24, lives the typical life of a struggling artist, working part-time at Starbucks and also part-time on her first documentary.

What is not typical about Holmes, however, is she doesn’t have to dig very far to access the pain many artists use to produce impassioned works. Her pain if often right there in front of the camera, whether she likes it or not.

Holmes was born with a form of Sickle cell disease, a group of inherited blood disorders. She’s decided to film her fight to live a normal life as a way to bring awareness to the disease and to empower others living with it. She’s also launched an online fundraiser to fuel the project.

“So many  people, even doctors in emergency rooms, are unaware of what sickle cell is and the pain we endure everyday,” she said.

jackieholmes.1-28-1Inspiration for this film has been a long time coming, and Holmes’ decision to pursue the project is heartwarming given her heartbreaking childhood.

Her mother Nichelle Holmes, a Richmond native, prosector and Vallejo resident, says Jackie is one of twin girls who were born prematurely and each with a form of Sickle Cell Anemia. Jackie’s sister, Lizzie, became ill at age 7, was misdiagnosed at the hospital and died, Nichelle said.

“After her twin passed, Jackie began to become sick more often,” Nichelle said. “She had a stroke when she was 17 years old.  She has had open heart surgery twice.  She has to have monthly blood exchanges and has had countless other surgeries and procedures.”

After all she’s been through, it is a miracle she is alive today and a double miracle she is winning her constant battle to live a normal life. Jackie is one year away from achieving her Bachelor’s degree, and she is a top seller at Starbucks, Nichelle said.

There is some luck, and a lot of community, also at play in Jackie’s story.

Despite having “hours and hours” of footage she recorded on her own, Jackie struggled to find someone to help her with editing. On Jan. 10, however, her mother spoke at a rally for murdered 21-year-old Vallejo resident A’Tierra Westbrook, whose family has been highly active in trying to solve the case. There, she met Regina Shields Hailey, who is A’Tierra’s aunt and also a filmmaker working on a violence prevention project. Hailey, who called both Jackie and her mother amazing, inspiring people, said she was happy to lend her support for the project.

jackieholmes.1-28-2“We all have unique qualities about ourselves,” Hailey said. “If we combine them and use them as resources to help others around us, I believe we can and will see significant changes in our communities.”

For Jackie, the decision to pursue such a personal project wasn’t that easy.

“I was a little skeptical, but not because of how people would look at me,” she said. “I was afraid because I had no idea how to put a documentary together.”

While she had support from her friends to pursue the project, it is her brother, who doesn’t have sickle cell, who provides much of her strength and courage.

“My little brother Jordan wasn’t born with Sickle cell…not being there for him at his baseball games, and going days without seeing him when I am sick, is very heartbreaking for me,” Jackie said.  “One of the reasons why I am doing this documentary is so that he can better understand what I go through and that I am a normal person just like him, just slightly different.”

And, naturally, another incredible driver of the project is Lizzie, Jackie’s sister.

“So I can look back and say, ‘Hey sis,’ look what we have accomplished in the Sickle Cell Community,” she said. “She doesn’t have a voice anymore, so I will forever be hers.”


  1. I enjoyed you post. Please keep me up-dated.

    I just think this is awsome. I have a son who is living with SS sickle cell disease. I am also the Director of The Dayton Sickle Cell Affected Families. | Jan 30th, 2016
  2. This is beyond a beautiful piece . I went to high school with Jackie and we had several classes together and I never knew she was struggling . I’m so proud of her for having the courage to speak for herself her sister and the rest of the sickel cell community. She is the definition of a true #LADYSPARTAN .

    Ashlie taylor woods | Apr 10th, 2016

About the Author

Mike Aldax is the editor of the Richmond Standard. He has 13 years of journalism experience, most recently as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. He previously held roles as reporter and editor at Bay City News, Napa Valley Register, Garden Island Newspaper in Kaua’i, and the Queens Courier in New York City.