Pope Francis once wrote, “Even today we raise our hand against our brother…We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to more death.” These words echoed in my ears so loudly that I had to write. I intentionally withheld this article because I wanted people to realize that after the cameras are long gone that we are still left missing our brother! A few weeks ago we were reminded of the beauty of a peaceful soul: Jarmelle “JoJo” Jones. Over 4,000 people gathered on a Sunday in a bond built out of love to take time to recognize his legacy. I met so many people and watched so many with tears in their eyes that day. The stories all ranged but the theme of how JoJo gave selflessly was remarkably all the same. Here was a man that brought an entire city together in the span of 26 years. JoJo did more for this city than some people three times his age. Rev. Stacy Spencer of New Direction Church, delivered a powerful eulogy in which he spoke of a pop culture saying: YOLO (You Only Live Once) pointing out that JoJo lived his life with a good heart and with a continued positivity that few on this earth ever truly attain. During the message of a call to action to bring us together to move this age forward toward a light that would break through all of the violent darkness of the city, I found myself asking what will they write of my brother?
The goal of an African-American/Black writer is to eventually lose the adjectives that come before writer. The goal of most of us is that we offer an availability or access point to control our narratives. There is a certain community of writers that are always agonizing over which issues to cover or how to address them best. Truth is I thought of making this highly technical full of research and statistics regarding the life spans of African-American young men between 25-35. I wanted to address the severity of need to make the call to action actually action and not just a pretty moment of elegant speech and rhetoric. Over the past few days I have seen so much ignorance displayed in the news comment section with a blatant disregard of the emotion of friends and family. I witnessed post with racial undertones and suggestions of how or why. We can never justify or quantify the loss of life. What we can do is to take the time to control the narrative. The truth is JoJo was my fraternity brother. He was my little brother and was initiated into our KAPPA ETA chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. I love all my brothers the same but JoJo was a brother’s “bruh” (bruh=brother). You could call on JoJo in the middle of the night for anything from I need copies from Kinko’s to can you come speak to my class of children. All you would hear would be his common reply, “Say No More.” He would always be right there.
The most difficult part is trying to understand how broad his reach into our community was. He was touching and promoting so much happiness and love into Memphis. We owe him a tremendous debt that can only be given compensation for through consistent work and an “add no E(xcuses)” mentality. Many stories will be concocted and rumors will spread. It is human nature to hate what we do not understand. How could a 26 year old be taken so violently? People outside of his reach see a young male who had amassed a decent living and was breaking barriers. Common societal images that a hustler means a thug, multiple hustles means illegal, and that dreads mean low class are blatant attempts to dim a star. Jojo was not a hustler but an entrepreneur who was consistently one step ahead of the market. He noticed that young ladies in Memphis were paying exorbitant prices for luxury high-end hair so he created a network to supply young ladies with luxury hair at an affordable price. He was at the head of the class when it came to promoting and marketing parties. Jarmelle consistently spoke a message of supporting Memphis economy and how that in turn would benefit our local businesses and each other.
Jarmelle spoke of getting “paper” but not money. His paper was a degree from the University of Memphis, which he attained. He did not wear dreads but locs. There was nothing to dread about JoJo and there was no dread in him. Jarmelle was full of life, love, and purpose. Even in death JoJo pulled Memphians together to show that enough is enough. Black, white, Asian, poor, rich, hip, nerds, brothers, sisters, old and young all gathered to create the story of a positive and influential Memphian. I know many will question how many articles or new stories need to be written? The answer as many as it takes until justice appears. This narrative of love needs a home in the hearts of those that tried to take the sun from his smile. This narrative of love is to prove that you did not take the sun. You only gave the sun a new sky to shine in by the SON. I see the sun each day I wake now. JoJo shines in the corner of each smile of peace, love, and hope that I witnessed on that funeral day. Over 4,000 people will go forward to tell 4,000 more people who will tell 40,000 more that JoJo was a man. He was and is a beautiful man of purpose. Now his purpose to serve as a catalyst of change and action has been sparked with an act of violence that was meant to stop a movement and only ignited a much bigger one to start in his memory. This light will manifest all through Memphis and the world now and there is no stopping that.
My only regret is that I did not tell him that I loved him enough. I mean how can you ever tell someone that did so much that you truly loved them enough? The beauty now is that I can tell my brother each day. He will see me in the classroom telling the narrative of my little brother whom I loved for his actions in the community. I will tell hundreds of children each year about the truth of my brother JoJo and tell them to chase their dreams as he did. Dream chasing is what JoJo was best at. He was best at making you believe that no matter whom or where you came from that you could achieve your dreams. Memphis, one of our sons, needs us most now. Please answer the call. Be courageous. Speak up and out. Work diligently. Love each other and more importantly take time to love a stranger. This city is full of strangers that need an encouraging word. Today we start a new journey and we will do it together. I send all my love to his family, my fraternity brothers, all those affected and effected, his little brother and a plethora of friends and associates. If we love and we show daily how much JoJo meant to us then Justice and Light have to shine. Darkness cannot last forever not with a smile so bright now cast into the sun rays as the fall upon us and warm our cheeks so that we may begin to smile again. JoJo we seek justice, not revenge, but justice and until then we will always and forever hold you in our hearts to remember a legacy of love and community building.