Jussie Smollett & The Flint Water Crisis: An "Empire" Short Story--written by LA Jamison based on actual events.
The Back Story (Summary of "Empire" and Flint Water Crisis)
Pre-Show Antics & Angry Crowd
The DL Inside the EL Club (Inside, Opening Acts and Antics)
I Wished That I Was Jussie's Gurl (Jussie's Arrival)
I realize that is a long short story. Some sections may not interest you and feel free to skip them. I think the two best sections are the Pre-Show Antics & Angry Crowd, and I Wished That I Was Jussie's Girl.
The Back Story
In 2015, a new TV show began called "Empire". It is the story of a black American family caught up and imprisoned by the dreams of a mother and father (Cookie and Lucius Lyon) of becoming a powerhouse music production company. The two have raised three of their boys Jamal (who is gay and played by Jussie Smollett), Andre and Hakeem. Besides making a thriving music production company, they hope to take their youngest two sons Hakeem and Jamal to stardom riding their coattails. Of course, all three boys have plans of their own and fight constantly for their own independence against the often selfish wishes of their power hungry parents. The poverty, crime, and abuse that the parents were apart of is inflicted on their sons and taints the backdrop of everything they do, from business to relationships. The TV show is part musical/part story and fans ate things thing up, particularly season one and two. Some have suggested the show to be a cross between the old night time soap opera Dynasty and Shakespear's King Leer. I have been one of those fans starting season one. I have been a fan not only of the story and this family dynamic but even more so a fan of Jussie Smollett's character Jamal who stands out as this sexy Prince like character with a quiet, smoldering sexuality. He boldly takes to the stage learning to embrace his gay identity in the face of a father and a black community none too welcoming of who he is. Andre is nothing to turn a blind eye to. He is sexy too and I like how they give him the struggle of being bi-polar. However, he is all business and too brooding and disturbed for me to crush on like I do Jamal. Jamal is a bit too clean cut but still, when it came down to it, I could not but help to be drawn to Jamal who is much more balanced and has a cool jazzy vibe in both his singing and speaking voice. His brother Hakeem is probably the hottest dish but also a hot mess. The bad boy out of the three. His youthful rebellious nature is like Billy Idols song "Rebel" and we all have a side to us that could easily lead us into the trouble he get's into. Really all three of them have a certain appeal and the tussel that ensues between father and sons and mother and sons makes you switch between love and disappointment with all three of them.
What also appeals to me, not only about Jamal as a gay, black male rejected by his father, is the fight the entire family takes on to make their "Empire". It all inspires me because that is what "Got Words?" is to me. I have to work hard, and there is no one who can censor my voice, but too, I have no one showing me the way or a huge crowd of followers because marketing rests squarely on my shoulders. I am branching off on my own with Got Words? rather than going the traditional publishing route. With Self-Publishing, I am creating my own little "Empire" all on my own and if there is one message the show "Empire" leaves you with is to never give up.
The same year as Empire debuted, The Flint Water Crisis was still leaking poisonous water into the homes of thousands in this largely African American community via the "Empire" of the State of Michigan. For cost-saving measures, the state had bargained to use water from the Huron River in 2014 as a source for water for its residents. By 2015, though that cost-saving measure was no longer needed, the State of Michigan declared the water perfectly safe and that it would keep this pipeline of water as is. This was despite the fact that residents of Flint were complaining that the water was yellow, smelled strange, and reports of rashes and other health concerns that came pouring in. This is very typical for a lot businesses that had hit us with their "cost saving" measures during the economic downturn. Businesses now don't want to reverse those harsh measures out of greed-despite the unfair hardship it puts on the rest of us. Since Rick Synder comes straight from a business minded background, it is no wonder that cost supercedes human descency.
Fast forward to June 12, 2018. The TV show Empire is in its 4th Season and the hand of justice against the State of Michigan and it's Governor Rick Synder has, by this time, smacked members of its own empire around due to the Flint Water Crisis. It escalated into worldwide news especially around 2016. After deaths from diseases caused by the toxic waters, the state was forced to provide bottled water and water filters to residents due to the high toxicity of levels of lead and other contaminants found in the water. Like the character Lucius Lyon, the Governor was accused of a gross wrong doing. He was accused of knowing about the dangers and ignoring them. After much publicity and angst, it seemed things were going better for Flint's water problem even if only those under the Governor had paid for the murderous misdeed. In my mind, as Flint faded in the news due to larger eclipses (like Trump), I was hopeful we were on the path to clearing up the Flint matter. Like many others, I became distracted by the big orange cloud covering our nation. In the meantime, the TV show Empire itself had gone through its own "shadey" stuff leading up to 2018. Lawsuits came about over this period of time, three to be exact. In two of them, people claimed the plot and characters were based off their own stories that they had exclusive rights to. None of it really went anywhere, but it did put a cloud on the show until matters were cleared up.
After the first two seasons of Empire, I had lost interest in the plot line by this point. Once it started getting into one of the main characters having amnesia (a typical soap opera ploy), I lost interest. Even so, I never lost interest in Jussie's character or his music. By this time, there had been controversy around Jussie Smollett too. There had been an almost insistence that the actor publicly confirm he was gay and quell the rumors. His first attempt at that reveal on the "Ellen"show wasn't well received which is understandable. Jussie merely replied about being in the closet that "I have no closet". It seemed he was wanting to either generate more publicity by keeping the mystery alive or he was being protective. I remember that even I was a bit "underwhelmed" by the interview. But in 2016, he started becoming much more clear and open--perhaps a little less overprotective. He was not only more vocal about LGBT people but also became one of the more consistent actors voicing his concerns about the Flint Water crisis. Even more so than I knew...that was until I heard speak at the concert.
Pre-Show Antics & Angry Crowds
So, here I was. June 12, 2018 at about 6:50pm and I had overslept due to allergies. I drove there like a bat out of hell fearing I would be late, only to have arrived more earlier than I knew. I stood in a line at the EL Club in Detroit on Vernor Highway with the simple words on their marque "Jussie Smollett" in black letters. A quick drive-by revealed a promising gated courtyard by the club's entrance and a runned down neighborhood surrounding the club. This was part of the "hood" for sure. Maybe not the hood as in "THE hood" but it was entrance into the hood. Believe it or not, this piecie of wonderboy white bread has been in THE hood parts before so I know a little about it. The EL Club crosses the border of an impoverished part of Detroit, away from the razzle-dazzle of the casino's, places like Detroit Institute of Arts or the host of historic homes.
I was nervous, to be honest. Would I be the only white, gay man gushing over Jussie while the entire black community looked on in disgust? Its no secret that if there is any community where men had to be on the down low between whites and blacks, blacks won out. It has just not been inherently acceptable in that community--not that the white community is much better. However, you have a better chance of it eventually being accepted. My other anxiety was who goes to a concert alone? I wasn't sure, but almost immediately I noticed a young black man in front of me who was also by himself. He was quiet and wore some kind of hip-hop fitness gear with a hat that was reminscent to what Michael Jackson might wear on stage. By some of his mannerisms, my gay-dar was binging but I couldn't be sure. I wanted to break the ice, get that sense of community going, but he was staring forward--determined not to engage. Just when it looked like he might turn to talk or even take a peek at me, he would resort to his cell phone. I would have to time my conversation openers right with him. I didn't want to be a creeper to this young twenty something. People are so much more less social these days and that fills me with a little angst because when I do get out and away from work, I really long to connect.
An older familar man made me feel better. He is a gay, short man I have seen almost everywhere I go when it involves the LGBT community. He has to be well into eighties, always alone and stands out with striking white hair. He doesn't seem to mind traversing an event alone. It almost boggles my mind the places he will show up at and stand untouched by humanity. I couldn't take that. I wanted to hollar out hello but I was too far and he was moving fast with ticket in hand. I wondered if he rushed back to his car and left. Though I looked for him during the evening, that was the last I saw of him. Instead, I engaged with two girls that came up behind me wearing graduation hats. I was going to make sure I was not standing behind those hats during the concert. They were easy to talk to because I knew fawning over their graduation status was a no brainer conversation starter--even if I was really only half interested. It is the art of conversation to find what you can talk about. It doesn't mean your starter or question has to be all that serious or even a real question you have. You first just need to get a conversation going, even if it is obvious and dull--break the ice. It can build to genuine from there.
As I asked the two young ladies where they graduated from, with a big warm smile, I also knew Jussie would notice them immediately. This was an intimate venue and they would no doubt get an overt nod if not honorable mention. Great, I thought, where is my graduation hat because I want him to pick me out too! They explained that they were straight out of a Detroit Public High School and this was their graduation gift to themselves. Indeed, the tickets were very economical, even the VIP. The two of them reminded me of an African American version of the Charlie Brown team of Peppermint Patty and Marcie. One boisterous, animated and boyish and seemingly born happy, and the other more quiet yet wide eyed, and wearing a canon camera around her neck.
It was around this time things started to remind me of the TV show Empire itself. As time marched on and we weren't getting indoors yet (with rain clouds fast approaching on the horizon), people were becoming agitated and angry. More and more people were adding to the two lines (one VIP, one standard ticket holders). One short, malino girl with braids and a youthful smile that was wide and clever as chesire cat, immediately began a time countdown and insisting that someone get her "Lam-i-NATE", as soon a possible. She over emphasized the word "NATE" every time she said the word lam-i-nate and she said the word a lot. The reason was the laminate held our VIP pass so it indeed it was important and she was letting everyone know it, if they didn't already. Time was eating away at her patience like a piranha. She definitely was not someone I would want to be on the other line of a customer service call because this girl wasn't putting up with a moments inconvience.
Two motherly figures who had been quiet all this time began telling others around me that they had been here since 5:30 (It was 7:00 by this time) because they had been given the wrong information about the VIP arrival. Anyone's complaints was somehow derailed by their tale of which I heard in some form around three times. They had called and were told to get here as early as possible. Somehow they were sent to the back of line to wait here with us, behind me and I had come later than them though still early. They had been brushed off by a staff member of the club who sent them to the back and then ran off, not to be seen again. I felt sorry for them, but I was edging to the point where I wanted to shut out the complaints. I wasn't here to dwell on what wasn't going right. I was here to see Jussie and if that meant only 5 minutes with him, so be it. I found ways to weave in and out of conversations by cracking jokes and asking questions based on conversations I was hearing around me. People always enjoy being heard and validated. With banter going on between us and a rumor of some artist being late, we all watched with angst as the somewhat overwhelmed crew of EL Club scurried up and down the line of people outside the club checking ID's and tickets.
I noticed two other masculine looking guys ahead of me. I guessed that they were either a gay couple or gay friends. One was white, bald with that look that says "I shave my pubes and moisturized my skin by the hour" and the other guy was black with braided hair who looked strikingly similar to Jussie Smollett himself. Great, I sighed inside, yet another person with an edge on me to catch Jussie's interest. I noticed them showing a slew of demo records that they had brought with them. I'm sure that might not go anywhere with the producers here as they receive thousands, but it was surely something Jussie could respect. So, what did I have bring to make me stand out to Jussie? My shaking head and hands? A nervous but compassionate smile? I only had this proof copy of my latest book I had written that I didn't even have a chance to see if it was perfect enough. However, I had to believe I was here for a reason. There had to be something for me to give Jussie. Since the shy little Michael Jackson dude was talking with Queen L, I edged in with a few jokes that got me laughs from him but a refusal to give me eye contact. I surrendered to the reality that if I didnt have the connection by this point it wasn't going to happen. It was the story of my life: easy to connect with the ladies, harder with the men.
A drunk lady came up to the line at this point hooting, hollering and twirling around on her high heels shoes exclaiming that it was her birthday. Queen L remarked "Gurl be already drinking? Okay! It's your burthday, honey. You get a pass. All I want is my Lam-i-NATE! I've been watching Jussie since his show 'On Our Own'! I don't care what they doing, just get me where I need to be to see Jussie." That made my stomach sink a little. Damn, I thought, we got the graduates, the Jussie look alike, and now this a girl who was a fan of Jussie's since a childhood TV show I never have seen? I'm doomed. They'll all have stories to tell him but what will I have?
I clung to what I did have. I squeezed hard on the package I held in my hands. It was all I had. In a yellow bag, I carried the first print copy of my sci-fi novella, Trial By Robot: A Spiritual Allegory For Modern Times. Something told me Jussie would like it and maybe much better than the typical slew of demo records or sayings like "I love your TV show!". At least, that was what I was telling myself. I wasn't here asking for a business deal. I was hoping to inspire him. The book had arrived on my front porch the day of the concert! I barely had enough time to write in it for him. I felt what I wrote was stale because I had to write it quickly and was half awake. Yet, I imagined when I got to meet him I would say more, and more richly. I was nervous also because I wanted time to look over the book. It was just a proof copy but I would have to risk it. Go all or nothing like in the show (pretty much mistake because in review, I see more changes I want to make). VIP tickets gave you a Meet and Greet, a Selfie with Jussie and concert items. What I didn't know was 150 other people would also buy these VIP tickets. Something I imagine that is relatively unheard of. One young man was telling us he got VIP tickets with Janet Jackson for $600 odd some dollars (VIP tickets for this concert worked out to be $70.00!). The difference was huge though. There was but a small group of them and they got to be in the dressing room with her. In contrast, there were more VIP's here than standard ticket holders for Jussie's concert. How was this small club going to VIP that many people? I tucked the question away except for a joke here and there. The attitude of the crowd: you better find a way to make this work and make it good.
As we all pontificated and joked about the coming rain, it wasn't until well past some feet numbing, that Queen L. got her precious "lam-i-NATE". By this point, the connection I had with those around was small but just enough that I hoped inside we would find each other if not be sitting with each other but I knew there was no guarantee. Meanwhile, I watched as a woman across the street was shouting with the drunk lady in line and strutting back and forth between her parked car and the lady in line. It was hard to tell what they were saying or if they knew each other. She looked like a newly born gazelle with a booty so entirely too big that she was barely able to keep herself from falling over on her heels trying to carrying that thang back and forth between the car and the line.
Next, we got frisked by the staff of EL who were dressed in all black, and wearing underwhelmed expressions. Who could blame them; they were being thrown questions and complaints left and right, for it was now well after 8pm. People were starting to feel ripped off. At first, it was once speculated that Jussie was late. This brought everyone's inner black out, saying things like "Nuh nah, Jussie, don't do me like this." It came out later that it was the opening performers who were the ones not ready, not Jussie. Jussie himself wasn't slated to go on until 9 or 10pm so this made more sense.
It is weird how you stand in line for this long and even folks way up ahead of you and way behind you become acquaintances by mere eye exchanges. You engage in glances that read "Glad you're still here" or "If you tough it out, then I will too" or worse "why am I stuck here looking at you?". These were the kind of looks I exchanged with a man far ahead of me who was Asian with a black beauty at his side, and with a white guy behind me who looked like white trash in a man bun.
The DL Inside The EL Club
If you ever been to Disney World and specifically the Haunted Mansion, there is a lot of standing and waiting, moving forward as a group and then waiting again. This is before you ever get on the cart that takes you through the ride. This is essentially how our experience was. We entered the EL Club late at 8:30pm and we were ushered in a go-wait-go-stop fashion. We went through an amply spaced bar with small lounge softened by dim lighting and a crimson light that read "EL Club". We were then made to stand before a velvet curtain while a pre-show band performed in the next room. The only person who I had known from line outside next to me was Queen L. and I was glad. She was the most conversational and knew her stuff. I was sure I could follow her in and she would get us both right up front. However, I lost her when she went to get herself a drink, risking losing her place in line. She daringly came back to the front of the line explaining herself all the way "I belong up here" she would say. She landed opposite of me on the other end of the room and I was disappointed. We waited here before this curtain for well over a half hour. Glimpses from behind the curtain revealed a standing room only concert venue which caused me many eye rolls to think about. My back was killing me from a previous fall and my feet were already going numb. With VIP, I had imagined plush seating or at least a seat and a table to share. It was pretty clear undering the blazing white lights that peeked through the black curtain that there wasn't a seat in sight and that the room itself was small.
We were allowed to pass through the magic curtains around 9pm. I was surprised to find myself near the Asian guy and his girlfriend near the stage. Up to this point, I had only exchanged glances with them. We all pressed ourselves up to the stage though there was plenty room to spread out--something that was boggling my mind, but I assured myself we were doing this because surely there were more people coming. We had to secure our prime spots, right? We rather selfishly packed ourselves toward the stage in our own self-made sardine can leaving no one much wiggle room. As we waited from 9pm to around 10pm several things happened while we stared at an empty stage, teased only by muscians with big afros passing by curtains. First, I started to engage with those around me in some joking for connection. One was a very large younger man near me who I asked to lean on when needed. And though he laughed at my jokes and agreed with my commentary, he and the black crew around him never gave me eye contact and didn't pay me much mind. This was until one of them literally had to lean on me to get his feet woken back up. I connected well with the Asian guy and his girlfriend who was model perfect. They were polite but you could tell by their commentary, especially the woman, they were "friendly" polite. If there was a stampede, they were going to trample over you to get out. In the end, it was getting the best seat in the house.
Getting frustrated looking at the empty stage, the crowd started checking out their surroundings and I locked eyes with the quiet shy guy I had stood behind behind in the line outside. He gave me a number of sultry stares that I almost found it difficult to break from. It was overtly obvious what he wanted. I thought, "Oh how convienant now that you are on the other side of the room and I can't reach you. Well F&*# you buddy." Queen L. and I gave each other a look and she shrugged as if to say 'too bad you are way over there' because she was up closer than I was. But, I was okay with that because I was only two rows away from the stage. Jussie would practically be in my face though she could literally touch him.
The two mother figures (who had arrived at 5:30 if you remember) were the first to cause a serious disruption. As time passed, it became clear something big was happening stage left. One of the mother figures who had been sitting with her backside on stage became unresponsive. She was still sitting up, but pale and her friend was slapping her cheeks and trying to pry her eyes open but there was no response. A call to staff got someone over to look at her but then he left. She looked dead and I entertained she may had had a stroke. It was as if Harry Potter and performed one of his spells. She was frozen solid. Eventually, she was taken out by fellow patrons (not staff which was weird) and as the crowd made a collective sigh of the elbow room this provided, they began to joke about how quickly we all had moved left to fill the void of the two large ladies now out of the venue. One black lady near by kidded with the guy behind me "Oh hell, I was at least going to wait 15 minutes out of respect!" while others were laughing quoting the line dance song Cha-Cha Slide "To the left, to the left!". It seemed a bit crude but I got it. Folks were tired. Many began to jive as the song "This is How We Do It" and others came on. I had discovered long ago in line that it was better I keep moving. So I was jiving in my own white melba toast way just to keep everything as limber as possible but I always love the way black people can move with music like they do and is part of my attraction to black man—their earthy jazzy feel. I tried my best to imitate them so I didn't look too nerdy and I’m pretty sure I didn’t quite pull it off but I didnt really care.
As more regular ticket holders filed in, the crowd behind us grew and pushed us tighter but never really filling up the room per say. In hine sight, we all could have given ourselves a little more room. Then something real strange happened. A stage hand came through holding a chair high in the air and we had to make room for a granny and her two twenty something grand children who were getting a seating venue no one felt they could afford to give--but they did anyway. She was now stage front as the grandmother of one of the opening acts. Stage front near me of course, just a row of people up. She wasnt even center stage because we were far stage right. Meanwhile shortly after this unwelcomed disruption, another young couple were literally pulled past me through the tight crowd like being pulled through the closing walls of a trash compactor. This young man and his girl squeezed through the people holding onto a young man’s hand infront of me and they took their place without so much as an excuse me or thank you or anyone even asking. Tensions grew. The Asian man and his wife through some shade at me for letting that happen. I wish I hadn't allowed it but they were young and seemed tiny enough. I came to regret it. The couple weren't even kind about it but rather acted like they deserved it, and immediately took a series of selfies. My only solace is that one point during the opening act, my wrist got caught up in the girl's wig because they were so damn close to me, and she was forced to readjust it which was kind of comical. This happened twice. I was hoping a third time might pull it straight off.
Next, a fight nearly broke out. Ole' granny had visitors coming back and forth through the crowd repeatidly to hug her and say a fond hello which was no easy chore for us to make room for. It illicited a sense of panic of how long these family members would stay. Ultimately, the inevitable happened. The Asian guy, whether by accident or not, elbowed one of the ladies vising granny who was trying to plant herself and her husband permanantly in our row. The woman shouted and shoved the Asian guy "Oh! You're not elbowing me, asshole!". Now, let me tell you, the Asian guy was no tiny, thin noodle from the Asian rice fields. He was tall and not one would you want to mess with even though a certain decorum decorated his aura. He turned and shoved her back a little and they began to bicker. As he tried to explain himself softly, she was having none of it. It was so tight at this point that I couldn't fully turn to see it all. The crowd around them attempted to stop what was looking to become brawl as the woman's husband entered the fray to defend his wife. However, he quickly moved to trying to calm the Asian guy. Things eventually calmed down and her and husband eventually left leaving granny and the rest of us with more peace and more room. Only the two grandchildren impeded our inner circle. We all rolled our eyes when granny said she couldn't see that well from where she was sitting but that "I don't want to bother anyone" when asked if she wanted to move. Granny remained right there and thankfully left after her granddaughter performed. Her absence at this point made little difference. The crowd pressed forward filling the gap of which, this time, benefited me none.
It wasn't till around 9:30 to 10:00 that finally the first opening act came out called June's Diary. They were pretty good and the girls were all glammed up in their own way. Some of their music was so loud my body felt like nothing but a conduit of vibrations. I was a drum symbol reverberating with the beat at the mercy of their chosen decibels. I decided to use that beat and vibration to massage by soar back and tried to remain still to let it travel through my body. They were stellar performers and that eased the three hour wait time a little.
The next opener was a girl by the name of Victory Boyd, Detroit native (Granny's grand daughter). She was much less known but her singing made me question if she wasn't even better than Jussie Smollett himself. She was awesome. Like a black Norah Jones. Her renedition of "I'll Fly Away" was breath taking and I will definitely be getting her music.
I Wished That I Was Jussie's GUrl (Jussie's Arrival)
I can't remember when Jussie came out. I think it was around 10:45 or so. He was more than I ever imagined him to be. His voice was the essence of jazz, angels and sex all wrapped up into one. His body was built and he pushed through choreography with fierce dance moves and gyrations like something out of a Michael Jackson video. It was vigorous, and at other other times tantalizing soft porn. Jussie was personable, down to earth, passionate, humorous and emotional. He got very emotional as he brought a young girl up on stage who has spear-headed the Flint Water Crisis awareness campaign of which I didn't know was still going on. Apparently, recently, the governor has cut residents getting water bottles saying that the water is now safe. The levels of toxic lead were said be down and safe. But, what isn't talked about is the other toxins in that water and that the issues with the pipes hasn't be resolved fully. I was amazed that Jussie was taking the money from the entire tour, (taking him to several countries and cities) and giving the revenue toward helping the Flint Water Crisis. Neither him nor his opening acts were making any money. Wow. Impressive! It was almost too much watching how hard they worked up there to think they would make nothing. He spoke about how in this very room we represented what America really was all about--diversity. When someone shouted about racism hurting him and thus they hurt with him, he pushed back with a wink and said things are much better now. 'It's a'right boo,' he replied. He felt this room represented the real America by the acceptance of the variety here. To me, it sounded a little naive. The crowd here was drawn by his television personality and singing voice. I think in a large sense he is right but there are still large pockets of segreation. Chosen segregation. Whether it is white or black populated churches or "the hood" and upper class "suburbia". I am sure the high of these concerts of a variety of people gathering skews the performer’s perspective a little to grandiose thoughts that divisions aren't as prevelant between the races. The acceptance of diversity isn't everyone's norm. Still, it was cute how he said it and that he wanted to remain positively focused on the pockets where this was true. Still, he sang a song that he said was to honor the black persons struggle called "Battle Cry" which harkened to the fight of equal rights. Indeed, the symbol of the Human Rights Campaign was tatooed on the bottom of his forearm.
Jussie at one point mentioned his boyfriend who had in laws in Detroit in a comical stint about the T-Shirt he was wearing. He said he was in love and joked that "its pretty annoying". And of course, as I had guessed, my heart throb did eventually point out the two girls wearing graduation hats. To my surprise, sometime, they had ended up right behind me. As Jussie spoke to them from the stage, it was like he was looking right in my direction. I was tempted to stand there and pretend he was talking to me but I couldn't. There came a point in the concert where I had let one of the graduates squeeze by me for better photos of Jussie, even though she acted as though I "should" let her because she explained, "after all, I am here practicing my photography." I could have said "tough tooties" but I let her in. During the last two songs, I let them both stand in front of me. I told them consider it a graduation gift. I got a shrug, as if to say "your loss', rather than a thank you but it didn't matter. I had to do it. In a sense, their youth, innocence and really their recent graduation led me to concede that despite their ingratitude, they would get something they didn't deserve and yet did deserve too. And perhaps in the end, I speculated, Jussie would see my act of kindness and give me a kiss (its fun to pretend, no?)
Jussie sang some Empire songs, and another he wrote after his father's death called "Like My Daddy" which was touching. He sang some of my favorites like Powerful, Freedom, and You're So Beautiful using two back up singers from June's Diary and a set of dancers more than equal to his dance skills. He also did some Michael Jackson (all the performers did since they were in Motown). I'm sure some of this was influenced by the presence of John Landis, choreographer of many hit stars including Michael Jackson. None of us were expecting to see him and he seemed grateful to be recognized.
The line to the Meet & Greet was forced to make several adjustments due to the size of the room which got people aching and complaining like a bunch of old people. John Landis and others did large group apologies for the requests of meet and greet line up changes and misunderstandings. We all began joking again and wondering how after an exhausting performance Jussie was going to see 150 people. He did it though. I watched him intently giving this huge smile for every single photo ahead of me, and I worried by the time I got up there I might get a middle finger by then, he would be so tired. My phone battery by this point was at 10% so I was getting anxious as were others. The girl behind me echoed she had only 13% left. But, even if I didn't have enough charge for a photo, I had my book to give him and this was special. At least, I had that. I would tell him what an inspiration he was to me as a gay man and that I was privileged to give him my very first print copy. I ignored that the Jussie look-a-like was ahead of me. But then, the guy behind me started talking about mugs he made for Jussie which was something of a side business or his side hustle, I wasn't sure. I looked and sure enough he was carrying a hug bag of very large, pretty well made mugs. So, I could imagine, as I was giving Jussie my book that he would see the next person in line with an even bigger package. He might feel hustled. I knew what I had to do. I had to tell Jussie "Breath. I have something that is just a gift. A spiritual encouragement you are going to enjoy".
Yes, that was what I would do. I would be different...wouldn't I? As I looked around the room, I realized I wasn't any different. Everyone felt that they had something more important to tell him than anyone else. I could see it in the way they pulled him close and spoke with passion as if they were giving him their final eulogy. Who was I but another enamored fan that would try to squeeze in a one minute pitch on why I loved him most of all? Still, I had to make an impact. I wanted to create a moment with him that would not only encourage him but maybe make him want to stay in touch with me. Maybe collaborate. Oh hell, I concluded, I wasn't different than anyone else here! That is when John Landis came over to the three sloshed ladies in front of me in the Meet & Greet line. He was somehow smitten with them because he took their unfinished drinks and got them three new ones for free. They acted like they deserved nothing less and secured a photo with him for after. It kind of sickened me. Someone then pointed out to me that the lady who had passed out had come back during the concert and was now ahead of us in line. I was happy for them. As we were approach well after midnight, these two really deserved to be ahead of the line.
When I got up there to meet Jussie, I had hoped I would have been greeted by that amazing smile and the eyes of an angel as I made my approach. I had even entertained video taping my approach so I could always remember it but it felt too contrived and I had little battery power left. I wanted to sit on his lap and rest my head on his chest. But, instead, as I approached, he was distracted. I was ushered up like one of many in a heard of cattle. By the time he noticed me, he was slightly disheveled because I was at his side before he even was made aware the next person had come up. I immediately moved into a compassionate explanation behind my gift and what he meant to me, and his face lightened up and he looked at me like I was his new best friend. You can see it in his eyes in the photos below. There is just no explanation what it is like to receive a smile from Jussie. It is warmer and more heartfelt than your mom's French Toast on a Sunday morning. He sounded excited to read the book but who really knows? It could be in an airport dumpster by now or tucked behind the vomit bag--forgotten. What celebrity isn't going to at least fake interest rather than be rude to an adoring, paying fan? Still, Jussie seemed like a real authentic Joe and I hope he gives the book a read. I hate that it needs to be revised and that he would catch the errors but maybe something, just something might lift his spirits or change his life.
Up to this point, I had watched every photo taken with him in due diligence and he gave nothing but the biggest, warmest smile you could imagine. He could practically play a black Jesus. This is why when I look at the photo I am in with the TV star, I'm a little sad because I was the first whom he didn't even show teeth for when he smiled. But, I know he was exhausted and had pleaded for a drink by this point. I'm used to dashed expectations. I still have his smile and the look in his eyes when we spoke burned on my retina.
Jussie's heart is big. I mean really big. Even to agree to do VIP for 150 people let alone donate all his concert money to Flint, Michigan. What he had say and how he insisted on "seeing" everyone of us not to mention his incredibly virile, sexy dance moves...I like to say in likeness of the song "Jessie's Girl" that I'm "Jussie's Gurl". He saw us. He wanted to see us. He actually asked the stage crew at one point to change the lighting while he spoke to us because he wanted to see each and everyone of us. During one of the songs, Queen L. even got a small personal serenade from him. Figures but I suppose she deserved it after all her fussing. I am left wondering what I deserve? I hope I get better than what I deserve because then it just might be someone like Jussie Smollett. I love this guy and will never forget my experience at the EL Club but especially that concert and one moment in time I stood by an angel on this earth. I love you Jussie Smollett.