For me, it really started just over a year ago. I had recently moved back to Jackson, but just physically…my heart and mind were still in Memphis. Every chance I got, I was in Memphis. Then, my classmate, Dumonte started posting about a Tailgating event he was planning for JCM and he needed some help for our class of ’94 tent. I knew I needed to try to get more involved locally so I thought…why not? I met Dumonte at a restaurant to discuss plans. It had been 21 years since the last time I had seen him at our high school graduation. We first met in 1988 in 7th grade band camp at Tigrett Junior High School. Although we were never close in school, I remember him as quiet, kind, and athletic. At our meeting, he began to speak about his plans for the all-year reunion Tailgating event. Most of his time was spent talking about the state JCM was in at that point. He told me that JCM was in danger of closing and that he hoped this event would bring awareness to this possibility. He hoped that it would bring alumni together to stop the closure. Two very important things happened to me at that meeting: 1) Dumonte’s passion for the possible closing of JCM reignited my love for my alma mater, and I haven’t stopped fighting for JCM and its legacy since. 2) Dumonte became not my classmate, but my dear friend and someone that I love and respect. His friendship is one of this past year’s greatest gifts.
So, the 2015 Tailgating event came and went and it was epic. Seriously…trying to describe the feeling wouldn’t do it justice, so I won’t even try. The next week, JMCSS began its series of public meetings where Kimley-Horn, the school board-chosen consulting firm, presented its plans for school closures. Still riding that high from Tailgating, I attended the first meeting with Dumonte and our classmate, Tennille. Again, that night, something in me changed. Before me stood a man (the consultant) I had never seen nor met before, who was talking about my city, my school like we didn’t really matter at all. I’m sure that wasn’t the way he intended. He was just doing his job. However, I’m a former educator. I know what closing a school does to a community. The effects can reach far into the future. But what really moved me was when I saw how concerned both Dumonte and Tennille were and to put it quite bluntly…I. GOT. PISSED. Immediately, my wheels started spinning. I left the meeting and started researching what we could do to stop the closure first and then what we could do to help and support JCM become a better, stronger school so this possibility wouldn’t occur again. That night jumpstarted several months of meetings and committees and protests and letters. I could go into all of that because it was such a large part of my life for several months, but we all know how that ended. JCM closed. This isn’t about that. Well, not exactly.
The saying “Some people come in your life as blessings, others come in your life as lessons” has never rung more true for me than this past year. Thankfully, I have had more of the blessings than the lessons. Though there were definitely some lessons I will tell ya. I could list all of those blessings here, but I would inevitably leave someone out and you would grow tired of reading anyway. Because of the fight to help save JCM, my FB friends list has probably doubled since this time last year. I went from only knowing graduates from the years when I went to school to knowing Merry High graduates and recent JCM graduates. I know that this is only social media but those are real connections with people that I would have never met without this experience. This past year, I have worked closely with groups of JCM alumni to get petitions signed, to meet with the school board, to come up with alternative plans to save JCM, to decide on a plan for memorabilia, to discuss the future of JCM ECH, etc. From these encounters I realized, we often speak of our famous alumni of whom we are so proud and rightly so. It is well-deserved. But look what our lesser known alumni have done! Almost daily, I continue to find out ways some alumnus has given back to JCM and this community as a whole. I know that will continue to happen in the future as well. That is what I am truly proud of. That is what I brag about. That is truly our blessing. To those alumni who have yet to meet up with your classmates since graduation, you are missing out. JCM Alumni are truly some of the best people I have ever met. My life is better because of them.
As you all journey home from our 2nd Annual Tailgating Weekend put on by my friend Dumonte Newsom, I want to remind you (and I know some of you don’t want to hear this) that we do still have a JCM. Is it all we deserve? Absolutely not. We were completely robbed of what we deserved for over 45 years. However, it is a school with the JCM name and the Cougar mascot and the colors green and gold. There are also about 140 Cougar students walking the halls of our old vo-tech building, which they have only ever known as their JCM Early College High. Soon they will pass composites of graduating classes from Merry High and Jackson High and JCM as they walk to class. They will see trophy cases filled with band and track and football and decathlon trophies meant to honor our legacy and inspire their future. They are taught by several teachers who taught at JCM previously and who I have heard say “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else”. These students will one day graduate with a JCM diploma (and possibly graduate with an Associate’s Degree on the very next day) and then return to join us at our Annual Tailgating Weekend. Like us, they come from all walks of life. Some are privileged and some really struggle. Like us, they are connected by the JCM name. They will be the ones carrying on our legacy. As alumni, I know we are not monolithic. So even though I may be able to move forward, many of you may still be hurting about losing the JCM we all knew and loved. I would be lying if I said it didn’t still hurt to think about what we have lost and what could have been. It does. Anyway, I just ask if you aren’t there yet, please just don’t block or knock those of us that are. We want to support JCM ECH in any way we can. We want this program and those kids to be successful. And when you are ready, we are here. No matter what decisions are made about a building called JCM, please remember JCM isn’t a building. JCM is its alumni. And they can never close alumni. We proved that once again this weekend. Because of that, the legacy of JCM won’t ever die. Not as long as I’m alive anyway.
So, another thing I know about my friend, Dumonte, is that he believes in God. I found this quote that reminded me of my conversation with Dumonte a year ago. “God can see things that you can’t see. It may not make sense right now, but one day, when God’s whole plan unfolds, you will see what God is up to.” Dumonte, my friend, you wanted to bring together alumni to stop the closure of JCM. I know this is not exactly as you envisioned it, but in the history of JCM, the alumni have never come together more than we have in the past year. And although it isn’t the JCM as we knew it, we have a school that carries our name and a chance to build something great. To say that meeting a year ago with you changed my life is not an exaggeration. It is truth. It led me to alumni who became friends who became family. It led me to a passion for my community that I never had before. It led me to a better consciousness of social justice particularly here in Jackson. It led me to a better understanding of what my voice should be in this community. It led me to a strong pride for getting the privilege to be a part of this legacy. And I know it will continue to lead me in ways I haven’t even seen yet. So, thank you for your vision and for sharing it with me and for trusting me to be a part of it. Now, I’m going to let you rest for a while because I know you are exhausted, but you will be hearing from me soon. Because, as you know, people’s paths cross (or recross) for a reason. Jackson hasn’t seen nothing yet, y’all…we are just getting started.
“That I was born to this circle-I am blessed. That I choose to stand in this circle-I am proud.” #iamjcm