When I found my calling 

I remember when I discovered drawing like it was just yesterday. One day, I was waiting to be picked up from an after school program I attended back in first grade. 

I remember seeing this kid who was always drawing something. I would walk past him to peek over his shoulder to check it out and his drawings were so cool. He was drawing these really cool characters and I built up everything in me to ask him who these characters were and if he could teach me to draw like him. 

He told me that those characters were from a show called Dragon Ball Z. Then, he gave me some paper and a pencil and let me sit with him and that was my first time ever learning how to draw.

I can remember how boring the afterschool program was but after meeting this kid, it was the only place I wanted to be at the time. I would daydream during class about being there and drawing cool characters. 

The teachers would tell my mom that something was wrong with me because I was always looking out the window and was never interested in the class lol.

 

They never dared to ask me what I was thinking about.

I was so young and this was the first time in my life where I found something that I liked to do. Something that just amazed the hell outta me from the start.

 

Man, I wonder what that kid grew up to be. I don't remember his name so I have no way of finding him and thanking him. But I can master this drawing thing and that's how I can show my thanks.

But yeah! This was also the first time that I discovered my dream of one day creating my own cartoons.

 

I was learning about all of these cool characters and wanted to watch them in action so I went home one day and asked my mom if we could get cable so that I could watch Dragon Ball Z.

 

I came home one day and boom. There it was. We had cable.

 

It was a wrap. I turned on the TV and watched my first episode of Dragon Ball Z and the shit was coooooool. Like it was really fuckin cool. From there, I got into another anime called Yugioh and then later, Naruto.

 

Naruto was the one. My favorite anime of all time. I grew up with the characters and they all meant so much to me. My style has some elements of the art style used in Naruto because that one really left a lasting impression on me. Much love to the sensei Masashi Kishimoto for that masterpiece.

(Fun fact for all you Naruto nerds out there, some of my favorite characters are: Shikamaru, Asuma, Kakashi, Hiruzen fuckin Sarutobi, Konohamaru, Choji, and of course the GOAT himself, Naruto.)

Since then, I became a huge fan of anime and manga. (Japanese cartoons and comics). I've watched/read hundreds of different titles and I'm still at it and will be for the rest of my life. Lol 

(My favorites so far are: Naruto, Nana, Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad, Carol & Tuesday, and Magi

Some other close favorites are Suzuka, Claymore, Air Gear, and a bunch of others I'm not remembering right now lol)

Dumb shit...

During middle school and early high school, I didn't draw as much, to be honest. I never really had a good relationship with academics and I just wasn’t able to learn in the same ways other kids could learn.

Everyone expected me to learn from a textbook and from teachers who never really cared about my Black ass. And I definitely showed no interest in learning about the racist ass history of the US and European conquest so yeah school was complicated for me.

 

Art class was probably the only place I ever felt some kind of peace.

 

Middle school was weird. For some reason, a lot of the kids in my school and around my neighborhood had this fascination with gangs and violence and I eventually got caught up in all that too. (Knowing damn well, none of us came from that life.)

Looking back, I realize that a lot of us would listen to music and see things on TV. Things we couldn’t fully comprehend and we didn’t really have anyone to talk to about all these things we were thinking about. So we just tried to recreate what we were consuming.

There are people in the world who glorify gang life and violence to make a profit and everything can seem so cool and shiny but for the people who really live that life, it’s tough. It’s real.

You grow up witnessing the lives of your loved ones being cut short due to violence. All the poverty… All the struggle… Man... Much love and light to all my sisters and brothers that are going through it. Foreal…

 

I make it my mission in life to learn about these things and to really just listen to people and help out any way that I can. So yeah if you grew up in a tough spot, you get all my love and that’s from the spirit...

I never got to say I was from anywhere. I was born in Baltimore but I never lived anywhere for more than 3 years so I usually say I’m from Maryland. My family moved around a lot so I’ve had my fair share of experiences. I’ve lived in hoods, middle-class neighborhoods, upper-middle-class neighborhoods, etc.

I think my biggest lesson from moving around a lot was getting the opportunity to see how others live and being able to appreciate wherever you are. I’m also comfortable with traveling through any neighborhood except for the crazy rich ones…

 

Those are complicated for me for reasons you can probably imagine.

 

But yeah, middle school was tough. My body looked weird because of puberty, my grades were shit, I was a black boy who was confused and angry, and sometimes I did a lot of stupid shit. (A lot of times actually.)

Moving on to high school, I started calming down a little bit. I entered freshmen year with a 2 year probation period (for doing dumb shit back in Baltimore)… So I felt a little pressure.

 

I knew that I needed to turn somethings around but it was hard, I moved to a new neighborhood and things got tough again for me. I had to learn how to fight a little bit more lol and really figure out who I wanted to hang with.

 

There were a lot of people getting jumped and robbed and stuff like that so yeah you kinda didn’t want to be on the receiving end. I made sure that I could defend myself well enough and I knew some people.

 

Discovering Music. And love...

 

During sophomore year, things completely flipped, lol. I started listening to rock music and I made some really cool friends. For the first time in my life, I had friends who were interested in the same things as me. We all liked anime, rock music, and video games. So I never had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. 

(We aren't really close these days but you know, life happens. It is what it is and it was what it was.)

For the first time in my life, I felt so free. People would call us the weird “emo” black boys around the block lol. Eventually, we all decided that we wanted to start a band together so I taught myself how to play the guitar and music became my life from there.

 

(I didn’t draw too much during 8th and 9th grade but I was getting back into that during this time as well.)

Music is probably the most powerful art form. For me, I could do things with music that I just couldn’t do with my drawings at the time. I had my first real love during the end of my sophomore year and that relationship was really tough from the start. I had so many feelings and questions and yeah I was hurt pretty often so writing songs and playing guitar was how I coped with a lot of what I was feeling.

 

In the middle of my junior year, I moved back to Baltimore.

 

My relationship with my girlfriend at the time got even more complicated, and my friend group started to break apart so yeah that was a tough time for me. I was pretty sad all that time. Like really sad lol. Around this time, all I did was pretty much cry myself to sleep and write songs but I pushed through. lol

My grades were a lot better now though so the move back was good in some ways. I just figured that since I hated school so much, I should just focus on graduating so I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.

 

I followed the rules. I sucked it up and learned all that dumb shit that I never used in life. I learned all about the White men who “saved” this country and the rest of the world and all that good stuff. I knew that I needed to play this game to get myself out of it.

 

This was the first time in my life I ever made the honor roll, I had nothing but A’s and B’s for most of my junior year and all of my senior year. (This isn't an accomplishment for me by the way so no applaud is needed. Good grades aren't a measure of a child’s worth. Yes Highschoolers are still children)

Now, around this time I felt a lot of pressure in figuring out what I needed to do for the rest of my life.

 

The teachers and counselors were pushing college on me and asking me all these questions about career stuff. (Isn’t that crazy?!…. To expect a 17-year-old to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives…. We live in a weird-ass society.)

I thought about becoming a high school counselor but wasn’t into all that time I would need to spend in college. I thought about the military but didn’t want to fight for a country that didn’t give two shits about me. And I never thought about doing anything with art because I was always told that artists only make money after they die.

 

Yup. I felt all that unnecessary pressure from broken adults who gave up on their dreams for a nice comfortable paycheck.

 

Adults who call themselves teachers and advisors but refuse to believe my ability to succeed in whatever I set my sights on… makes you really think huh?...

Well, I graduated from Woodlawn High School in May of 2013. (Also not an accomplishment in my book, and I only walked the stage because it made my momma proud that her Black boy graduated high school and that was enough for me)
 
Hey, I hope yall not bored lol.  I know. I know. I got a lot of feelings about this society and other things but that’s me! Some drama is coming up though and it gets a little more interesting so keep reading! Lol

 

After high school, I moved to North Philadelphia and worked as a dietary assistant for a senior living community. It wasn’t a terrible job.

 

The best part was getting to talk to the residents there. I love me some elders lol. A lot of fucked up shit was going on there so I made it my mission to treat them with nothing but love and respect.

(Really think about where you send your elderly parents and grandparents, a lot of these senior living communities be wild… Respect your elders. Nuff said)

I quit that job and moved back to Maryland to be with my girlfriend from high school. Yup, we were still together at this time, going on 3 years now but that relationship was coming to an end. We broke up around Christmas of 2014 and it really fucked me up.

To invest so much of yourself in a relationship for that long and being that young, it felt like a part of me left my body.

I like to really think about how I used this word but I was definitely depressed. I was living in my grandmother’s basement at the time so I would just sleep on the floor of this cold basement and not eat for weeks. I just couldn’t. I would cry and cry and I felt like shit every waking moment of my life.

Shit was dark lol. 

But I picked myself back up and started getting better with my drawing. I even discovered digital art during this time after a friend gifted me a drawing tablet for my birthday.

 

(At this point, I haven’t been drawing much at all since high school).

 

My Awakening

This is when I started learning more about spirituality!

 

So yeah! This was kind of my awakening moment. I questioned why I was so fucked up over how that relationship ended and why I felt so attached to this person and I came to the conclusion that my spiritual system needed some work. 

I started journaling and reading self-help books like The power of now, the 4 agreements, the mastery of love, all the good stuff.

 

Don’t knock those self-help books. Spirituality is also something that must be learned just like anything in life and books can really help you out with that. 

(Fuck them people that hate on you because you read self-help books and like crystals. Keep doing you and keep seeking out information. While you're healing and glowing, and bringing light into the world, their hating asses can stay bitter and ugly.)

At this time, I was a new fuckin person.

 

Still hurt by everything that happened but healing and loving myself was my priority. I would buy myself new clothes. I would sit out in nature and just journal. The sun felt different on my skin. I learned how to breathe again. I also got a new job so I had some money. I was doing good!

 

About a year or two had passed and I met another girl. I was convinced that I would do everything right this time. I had time to reflect on everything that happened in the past and I thought I was ready so we started a relationship and it was good!

I had some of the happiest moments with this girl. She was cool and different and new. And I thought I was completely out of her league.

 

We talked about getting an apartment together and everything. The whole 9.

But one day she dropped all contact with me and I didn’t hear back from her in weeks. (Some of the hardest fuckin weeks in my life. My work life suffered, I wasn’t eating again and I was always wondering if she was okay, I just wanted to know she was safe...)

 

And when she finally came back, I could tell she just wasn’t interested anymore… She acted as if she hadn’t ghosted me for weeks. (something like 2 months)

We broke up and I was a fucking mess but this time I caught myself and made a promise that I would never give anyone the power to make me feel this way ever again.

I told myself that only I was in control of my happiness and no one else. I was not going back to the basement lol. That shit was scary. No!

 

I said fuck it! I quit my job and made a lot of fuckin art. Like a lot. (sometimes I would complete 3 pieces a day). I was getting so good so fast and my work was getting some buzz on social media.

Finding Spirit.

Around this time, I was reading more about African Spirituality.

 

I thought about how I never got the chance to learn about my people and the spiritual systems they practiced before they were torn from their homes and brought to the "New World".

I made it a mission to learn everything that I could about where my ancestors came from and how they practiced spirituality. I soon started seeing some of those spiritual themes and concepts in my own work.

 

I became more focused on making my art something that could eventually heal people and quickly realized that with art I had so much power in my hands.

I started to view myself much differently as an artist/person and I started to believe that I was definitely put here as a kind of messenger for Spirit.

 

(If you look at my work, it’s always signed by Spirit. So look closely. You'll spot the word in there somewhere lol.)

Spirit is just what I call god. I don't have a really good relationship with the word “god” so Spirit just felt more appropriate to me. Like many Black kids I grew up Christian and I went to church.

 

I remember hearing somethings and witnessing some things in the church that didn't really sit right with me so yeah. Spirit worked for me. (That's important if you're new on your spiritual journey. Try to find whatever works for you.)

Spirit to me, feels more inclusive. It doesn't have a sex or gender. (Although, I feel if god was anything, she would actually be a woman. But that’s another conversation…)
 
Spirit doesn't have a color or a face. Spirit is everything and is ‘within’ everything. It’s in the universe, the earth, the plants, and all the elements… Spirit is in every person and animal. Spirit is in memories and feelings. Everything...

But I'm going to fast forward to now so that I can end this long story. Lol

 

Nowadays I live with my beautiful and amazing soon to be wife in Richmond, VA. we are expecting a baby in the spring of 2021. (yall not ready for this bundle of light. lol).

 

And yeah I have dreams of producing and directing my own cartoons. I also have dreams of opening up a building that showcases my art.

 

I want to create a place where black people can be together and have a good time. A place we can feel safe. A magical place. That’ll happen soon. I promise you! already working on that.

 

So yup! that's pretty much my story so far. Moved around a lot, had a couple of heartbreaks, found ME in the process, and still growing. still getting better at the thing called living. 

I’m working on myself every day so that I can continue to bring you guys more beautiful and meaningful art. I’m living my life the way I want to live it and I’m thriving. 

I surround myself with other lovely people who lift me up and I got rid of any and every hater on the way. 

Life is beautiful. Life is good. 

I’m exercising these days and eating well too so that's always a plus. (take care of your body. Foreal.)

Yeah, I found a good woman along the way too. A gorgeous chocolate QUEEN who believes in me and loves me for me and we’re creating a family together.

She's a teacher and singer, who's a lot cooler than me but you'll meet her one day. She's around. (Don't hype her up though. lol)

We’ll be dropping a few babies from here on out. Building our little army lol. These babies will change the fucking world. Children of Spirit. 

Yeah, I like that lol.

 

I can't wait to meet them and see who they will become. I can't wait for you all to meet them. We’re one big family here.

 

(Also, I must add that I work with kids at a summer camp every summer and have been doing so since the end of my junior year in high school. 

This place definitely shaped who I am and everyone there is my family. I even met my wife there. (Yeah, I'll just call her my wife because that'll probably happen next week or something. Already proposed with the ring and everything so yeah. We’re getting there.)

 

I learned so much here about social justice and inclusivity and just how to be a good fucking person. This place is a big reason for why I am the way I am when it comes to people. I want everyone to feel safe and appreciated regardless of your race, sex, gender, sexual orientation. Etc… and like I always say. We do things a little differently here. And we definitely don't do that racist, sexist, and homophobic shit here. Period.)

But, thank you for sticking with me for this long.

 

There's still so much that I wish I could add but I'll meet some of you in person one day and we can talk about those things then. I'm sending each and every one of you so much love and light and you are greatly appreciated. Thank you for existing. <3

For the "weird" kids who like drawing anime, playing video games, and watching cartoons. You matter and you are so fuckin cool.

Respect your parents but also realize that you're your own person with your own dreams and one day, you won't be so concerned with trying to meet anyone's expectation but your own. You'll meet people who are just like you. Cool people who you don't have to pretend around and you'll just keep growing.

 

Keep following those dreams. Keep drawing and being true to yourself. I'll see you at the top. 

And keep believing in yourself, That's the most important thing.

 

To the parents, who rather their children find more "acceptable or trusted" careers. You have issues. All love here but you still have issues. But it's okay. If your child looks up to me, they will be just fine because I'll show them that they can do this.

 

The idea that artists only make money after death is a lie. There are artists under 25 who make more than 6 figures. There are A LOT of them and this is the best time to be an artist. But that's enough talk I'll show you all. <3

With love,

Justin

To be continued...