Growing up, I rose in the morning and laid my head down at night in a “blue and white” house (literally and, the farther the story goes, the figurative meanings will be apparent as well) on Eastview Street in West Jackson. Because the street runs along several other streets, I always have three to five minute conversations with anyone who asks me where I grew up. “Oh, I know that street. Do you stay on the St. Charles side, the Robinson Street (then road) side, or the Lynch Street side?” Our house sat in the middle closest to Columbus Street between St. Charles and First Avenue.
There were several routes to our house, and each time I traversed to and from my humble abode, the route would depend on if my parents were driving to or from my elementary school, ADHIAMBO, versus to or from the office on Farish Street. Each route would barely miss the burgeoning campus of Jackson State University, which was just a 7-10 minute walk away. But every night, I could bank on hearing two sounds from the comforts of my own bed: the horns of the train on the tracks at the end of a hill at the intersection of Prentiss and Fortification streets and the horns of the brass section of the Sonic Boom of the South at 1400 J.R. Lynch Street.
The music of the Boom alternatively lulled me to sleep and brought me to the highest heights of excitement when I would see them live at a Jackson State football game. I was one of the only kids in the press box listening to one of my dad’s best friends, Eddie James, as he announced to the press box during each quarter, and Dr. Jimmie James, chair of the JSU music department, as he announced during the halftime show. Then my mom would take my hand, and we would take the stairs down to the stands for the halftime show while I danced as if I was on the field with the Prancing J-Settes. We would go back up, and I would watch as reporters wrote down football stats. I got to meet coaches W.C. Gorden, James Carson, and Robert Hughes; athletic directors; JSU presidents; and many more people dedicated to the betterment of the university and city over the years.
Not only did I enjoy football games, but I was a part of Kidz Kollege during the summer. I went to NAACP meetings with my parents at the Masonic Temple right near the campus. We went to basketball games and other functions at the AAC. And when I became a middle school student, I was excited to go to Blackburn Middle School – which is right on the JSU campus – because I felt like I was going to college. I even took voice lessons with Dr. Phyllis Lewis-Hale in the F.D. Hall Music Center before I decided on my college major.
Though I ultimately decided to go to Tougaloo College, I have always and will always feel like a part of JSU – an honorary alumni if you will. Because Jackson State is not just a school, it is a part of the culture of the city. It was an epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement; it is a beacon of hope for first generation college students and those seeking to better themselves through higher education. It is a cultural center for intellectual exchange; it is a hub for planning and development for the betterment of the city of Jackson. It is a home away from home. If downtown is the heart of our city, then Jackson State is the lungs, breathing life and vitality into our everyday lives.
Countless lives have been touched by Jackson State University and all those who have had any interactions with the campus or its people have countless stories to share. These memories flow through our hearts and minds like the blood in our veins. We are Jackson. We are Jackson State. And yes, we are SWAC.
The university welcomes students, faculty, staff, and people from near and far – from the rural parts of Mississippi to the coasts of Africa. And the people of this city welcome them all because that is who we are. When rumblings that Deion Sanders was coming to coach football at Thee I Love began, we were all excited. Of course, we wanted to breathe new life into our beloved football program. But it was the promises of being “called and sent by God” to “bring our boys home” and change the trajectory of HBCUs that our people bought into.
We did not petition or start a GoFundMe or beg for Deion Sanders to come to Jackson State. What we did was welcome him with open arms. Yes, we enjoyed winning and many of the perks of having a national celebrity in our midst. But the national claims that we should be grateful denote that we are somehow indebted. And we are not.
We are glad that we won the SWAC championship twice in the last two years. But I would be remiss if I did not mention W.C. Gorden, who dedicated his life to this community and lived in this community until he passed away at the age of 90 in 2020. He was an avid reader and subscriber of the Jackson Advocate. He won eight SWAC championships and will always live in our minds as an example of greatness. Those who buy JSU sports paraphernalia proudly wear the sports logo he designed.
Our dedication has always and will always be to Jackson State and the city of Jackson. We will still support Jackson State. We will still go to games, waving our pom poms to “Get Ready” and singing, “I’m so glad I go to JSU.” Because this is our community.
We’ve had a hard three years. On top of a global pandemic, our water infrastructure is failing and crime is at an all time high. We have seen tough times before, and we always come out on the other side more resilient, more assured, more blessed, and ready for what God has in store.
The Sonic Boom played “We are the Champions” by Queen at the SWAC Championship last Saturday. The words of that song were true before 2020 and will continue to be true after this season. It doesn’t matter what route we take: “We keep on fighting ‘til the end.” And in the words of Tye Tribbett and Kendrick Lamar, “We gon’ be alright.”