We’ll See You in the Morning!
I first met Jamanni Gibson in 2014, after the first Rammies was held at Manual Academy. Jay was one those kids you run into every ten years or so. He had vision, hope, and enthusiasm. He knew exactly what he wanted to do in life and did all the right things to be successful. Jay was confident, but he was also kind, humble and held deep convictions.
Jay succeeded in everything he put his mind to. I remember when he agreed to be in the Salsa Dancing Workshop at the 2015 Hope Renewed Youth Conference, because we didn’t have enough boys. He even ended up being good at Salsa dance too!
That year he was one of our Hope Renewed Youth Conference Scholarship recipients. Jay was headed to UIC to pursue a degree in architecture. I knew Jay was going to do great things. He had all the tools he needed, and in the back of my mind, I believed one day he would make a fantastic politician. Unlike most young people, after college, he planned to come back and make Peoria better!
On March 31, 2018 I attended Jamanni’s funeral service held at his beloved Manual Academy. I was asked to speak by his family, at his service. There were so many people, that they could have asked, I was deeply humbled and honored to do so.
It was clear by the over 300 people who attended his service, that Jay had impacted many lives in his short 21-years on this earth.
Two of his Commanding Officers penned letters to his family, sharing how significant Jay was to their unit. His leadership skills had already been recognized, in the short time he served in the military. One of them shared that it was clear; Jay could have gone as far as he wanted to in the military.
To hear his speech teacher, talk about him, in terms of such endearment, and then see him after the services weeping with such pain was heart wrenching. Anthony Kramer described Jay as a student that brightened his day when he walked into his classroom. He shared that not only did Jay influence the other students in the class; he had a tremendous influence over him as well.
His siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, all allowed us to get a glimpse of their beloved Jay, through their eyes. The service was officiated by an uncle, the eulogy done by a cousin, another cousin sang, his grandfather, fighting through tears, shared his love for him and all the family. But Brenda, his mother, more than anyone, showed us the essence of who Jay was. She wrote a beautiful tribute to her son, who she called her “Golden Child.”
Watching Brenda, sit there, with her heart-broken, yet so graceful and being held up by her faith, allowed me to see what made Jay so special. It was his mom, widowed as a young woman who poured into this gifted young man’s life. It was his mom that allowed him to excel. That allowed him to explore life. It was Brenda, who was the first person to believe he was special; to know that he was an exceptional young man. She nurtured and spoke greatness into his life. It was Brenda, who so unselfishly shared her son with all of us.
Even though Jamanni Malik Gibson’s life was cut short, his impact on me and so many people will never be forgotten.
We love you Jamanni and so glad you passed our way! And we don’t say goodbye. We’ll see you in the morning.
Below is an excerpt of the Hope Scholarship essay Jamanni submitted.
Whenever people ask me about my career dreams and aspirations, I feel this immense sense of pride. I tilt my head up, adjust my proverbial tie, and say in my most educated vernacular, “Well after I earn my Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Public Policy, I intend to take my expertise to Peoria and Chicago and help reengineer dilapidated communities into thriving zones of communal prosperity!” I watch as their eyebrows rise to their forehead’s edges and smile and say with a chuckle, “You’ve got it all figured out don’t you? What made you so driven? I can now say with a smile, “Well my blood runs R.E.D!”
In order to materialize my career dreams of making an impact in communities like the one I am a product of, I plan to find the perfect balance between my studies and my service to others. …. It is my conviction that only when I walk amongst the people who need me, will I be able to help the people that need me. I will have to listen to their struggles on a level so personal, that I begin to feel them as my own struggles. I will have to be right there ready to help when a child feels that an education seems out of his or her reach. My presence must be felt when a family wonders where they will turn after the only local grocer relocates to another part of town. Being a part of these people’s lives will be one of the greatest assets I will possess to helping me attain my career aspirations…..
Realizing Every Dream (RED) represents so much to children like me. We have grown up in a time where so many people have told us to dream “realistically.” Sometimes there are good intentions behind this suggestion, but the problem lies in our community not believing that we can be the Warren Buffets, Barack Obamas, or Oprah Winfreys of the world. We are strong, intelligent boys and girls who will only not believe it after so many of our community members tell us.
Brandon Williams a very inspiring poet from the conference, mentioned to us a quote from Einstein that reads, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” HRYC wants our generation to get rid of any previous notions we may have that our dreams are too far out of reach. I am happy to say that I have the 2015 Hope Renewed Youth Conference as a new notch on my belt in my race to the future……
I set my own destiny and define my own limits. The only person holding me back is me. I will never again let someone tell me that I cannot transform my dreams for the future into memories of my accomplishments.
So one day when I have helped the people of my community and inspired the children that look up to me I know it will not stop there. I might have to set my sights higher and add a government title to my name. My family and Hope Renewed Youth Conference will still be there to guide me. For now, though, my” magnum opus” remains an empty canvas, waiting for the radiant watercolors of my ambitions to paint a bright future for all society to admire.