My Friend Jamaal

By: Cartier Pitts

Many Freshmen may remember seeing this twenty-something, tall, black man walking the halls of Hathaway Brown this past fall during the Young Writers and Artists Festival. I am certain that some of the sophomores may remember his name being Jamaal May. But I definitely know the upperclassmen remember when he first came early during the 2013-2014 school year for a funny and thought provoking assembly. He shared poems that were in his recently published collection, titled Hum and his favorite lyrics from Kanye West and Lil Wayne songs. I sat there in awe, thinking how much I wanted to meet him and learn how he made his work so special.

Fast-forward a year after that assembly and my wish became a reality. I sat in Mr. Parsons’ room and had lunch with him and a few of my peers. We were talking about everything from the true meaning of a Bachelor’s degree in society to the return of LeBron James, as if we were old friends. His answers to our questions came from a place of thought, one of experience and reality. Through this conversation, I could see why Jamaal was such an accomplished writer (an American Library Association and Beatrice Hawley awarding winning one, to be specific). But his success cannot be measured by trophies.

A few days later, I had the opportunity to write and work with Jamaal May. According to the weathered blue notebook in which I wrote notes in, we learned a lot that day. I do not have the patience or time to describe all of the lessons here, but there are two that have especially stuck with me. Jamaal shared this theory that our conscience really is not truly our own; it is made up of everyone’s thoughts and conversations. At first this was a little difficult for me to grapple, but then the lightbulb was turned on. Have you ever wondered how the confident thoughts in your head sound a lot like your friends and your parents cheering you on while the negative thoughts sound like the people who have troubled you? That’s why. Humans are influenced by our culture more than we would like to ever know or admit. The other theory is more of a truth in my opinion; art argues that we are all connected. This idea instantly made sense to me. It is why a college Freshman, a soccer mom, and a congress person can all pick up the same book or watch the same movie and most likely have similar emotional responses to it. If we were not connected, this outcome could not ever happen.

These two lessons, more than anything else I have learned from Jamaal, have changed my outlook on life–and writing especially. Many times I have been afraid to put my heart on a page, whether it was a paper or a poem, because I was nervous of the commentary that was to come with it. But now I know I have no reason to fear because what I am writing is what you have thought, are thinking, or will one day think. Though the spectrum of life experiences is wider than a person can picture, there are many common events we share, such as falling in love, and failure, and success. And despite there being a multitude of cultures and languages, only art can transcend these barriers in order to share this revelation. Art is our way of telling one another that “this life you are living, I am living it too. The feelings you are feeling, I am feeling them too.” I would not have come to this conclusion if it were not for my tall, twenty-something, black male friend named Jamaal May.