That was some kind of Saturday night.
He celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Poetry Café, his monthly session of creativity in GSO, and turned Triad Stage into a joyous sanctuary of song, poetry and spontaneous outbursts that felt more like Sunday morning than a Saturday night.
And what was it that I heard him say Saturday night?
“Life is worth the fight.”
He said that several times from the stage.
Yes, it is.
Josephus Thompson III, he’s come a long way.
It must’ve been 2002 when I first met Josephus. He was a student at N.C. A&T, a member of the poetry group The Collective. He was an earnest, steely-eyed optimist whose deep baritone delivery made you stand up and take notice.
I put him in the “Hot Seat” feature in TriadStyle. Remember that alt-weekly rag? We had this God-awful green chair that looked like it came from a Saturday yard sale, and we put all kinds of local folks in it for our “Hot Seat.” We did that with Josephus. Yes, we did have all kinds of right-brain fun in TriadStyle’s two-story brick clubhouse in the parking lot of the N&R.
Anyway, that’s when Josephus first caught my attention.
I later recruited him to become a columnist in GoTriad because I realized he had much to say about the world we live in.
Back in July 2010, Josephus wrote:
For me, my words speak new visions that cause the sun to shine on my life. Through the cloudy days and dark skies, they are my constant.
My sanity lies between these nouns and verbs, commas and periods, paragraphs and simple sentences. These words are like tapestries of my life painted on cave walls like hieroglyphics telling my story.
You’ll find the rest of his Go Triad column here.
When I became a columnist at the N&R, I wrote about his take on Trayvon Martin’s death in March 2012.
I started that column this way.
Shaved into the back of his head, Josephus Thompson III makes a statement with two initials: TM.
He had it done a week ago, so the initials behind his right ear have begun to fade like old ink. But look close. You’ll see it. Other people have, too. And Josephus sees a lot of people.
He teaches about mood and metaphor at 15 local schools and creates events, holds workshops and produces his own weekly radio show on WNAA (90.1 FM) because of his passion for poetry and spoken word.
And now, shaved into his head are two initials.
I ended it with this:
“Everybody’s voice matters. So, don’t just sit there and listen. Use the gifts that you have. Knowledge is power. Communication is power. This is the only way to set it right.”
During my 100-month stint as a columnist, I joined Josephus on his creative path every summer. It was because of the teenage poets he recruited for the Gate City Youth Slam Team.
I’d find them before they went to a national poetry competition, practicing all the time and writing their poems on their iPhone or in a notebook. I’d hear them grouse about Josephus’ constant coach drive often. But they’d always light up when they yelled, “GATE CITY! GATES UP! LOCK DOWN!”
I do so love that chant — and its strong gesture of forearms crossed in an X.
I do love that, too.
I’d drop in and out of their life for about a month or so. I watched them practice, perform in the griddle heat of GSO’s Fun Fourth Festival in July and raise money by hawking fish sandwiches on a busy corner of MLK.
Then, I watched them practice some more — again and again and again.
They’d be in front of the big windows at McGirt-Horton Library twice a week, bathed in the glow of a late afternoon sun, and they’d spend two hours at a time spouting spoken-word lines that punched me in the heart. They were good.
I mean, look at these faces.
They were some kind of serious, and they made me believe even more about the power of creativity. They also made me believe in the drill-sergeant leadership of an A&T grad. At McGirt-Horton, he’d be stone-faced, sitting in the corner at a table, watching them perform.
Afterward, he’d always critique them hard.
“Y’all are all over the place. Everyone sees it and feels it.”
“Check your attitudes at the door. We’ve got work to do.”
“You know what I’m saying? You have to link!”
“Do it again.”
On Saturday night, I kept thinking over and over, “Look what Josephus has created.”
He’s a true entrepreneur, a credit to GSO, a man who onstage often goes by his spoken-word stage name Josephus III. He’s taught kids in area schools to explore writing and love poetry, and he’s taken GSO teenagers nationwide to pour out their most intimate feelings on a big stage.
In the process, they found out who they really are.
Then, there is his Poetry Cafe. He gives everyone a chance to let their creativity bounce.
My wife Katherine and I saw that Saturday night.
OK, let me get this right …
Here … at the … Poetry Cafe
We feed your mind
And your soul.
(Syncopated handclaps included)
Josephus did his best rap-sing thing and led us all in that chant Saturday night. Now, Josephus was cool and all in his sharp suit with an orange flower pinned to his lapel. But he can’t carry a tune. He’ll tell you that. But he sure can dream, work hard and carry out his vision.
See, he’s a trained engineer, the son of an Army sergeant. Like so many, he could’ve taken the traditional route. But at the turn of our century, he bypassed the safety of a big-money career and took a calculated risk because he wanted to follow the passion that had moved his heart since fourth-grade.
It has paid off.
“Life is worth the fight.”
Yes, it is.