Jerris’ Story

“Watch what happens when you keep going.”

“I have always loved fedoras. The shape of my head makes it possible for me to wear one just above a 45-degree tilt. I adopted this as my signature look so no one else looks like me.

This new self admiration is a total turnaround from how I felt about myself in 3rd grade. Back then, I wanted my skin to be lighter. I was good with being African American, but I wanted to be a lighter African American so I scrubbed my skin in the shower to get the blackness off.

Since the blackness would not come off, I grew up all chocolaty right here in Fort Lauderdale. Although I lived in the African-American-Jamaican-Haitian neighborhood, I went to the Nova schools, which kept me on the social fringes with the neighborhood kids.

Bullies picked on me for talking ‘white,’ and when they would come after me, they saw I was a fast runner. That’s how I got the nickname ‘Quick’ and for me those running skills transitioned into football.

I ingratiated myself with the bullies by helping them with school. They already knew that I was a good runner and that I was funny but now they learned that I was also a good student and could help them with their homework.

My family loved that I could write and encouraged me to pursue it, but It was my athletic prowess that would be my ticket to college. The other kids who knew me called the writing a waste of time. Writing was a place of comfort where I went to to express myself and organize my thoughts.

By 10th grade, I went from being bullied to being admired. Not only was I a good athlete, but I was also really good at writing some great love letters, so the girls liked me. My writing was something special and I was regularly breaking hearts with it and getting my own heart broken. I was drawn to that whole love thing. I swear I would have robbed a Bank of America for love. Plus, my skin color was now a cool thing.

I graduated from Nova High School at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. When I hugged my mother, I promised her that I would be coming back there to do something special.

I got a full-ride football scholarship to Missouri Western State, became a captain, an All-American, and in 2012, I was inducted into the Missouri College Hall of Fame. Now they are doing a 50 years of football greats and I have been named as one of the greatest football players of the 1990’s.

After I graduated, I was signed as a free agent for the Chicago Bears. After being cut, I soon signed as a New York Jets free agent. When I arrived in my New York hotel room, a New York Jets contract and $100 for breakfast was on the bed. I ate a $9 breakfast and pocketed the rest.

My workouts were incredible. I was bursting in the glow of being a New York Jet. I entered our workout facility at Hofstra University and there were pictures of Joe Namath and all the other great players I looked up to my whole life. It was a dream come true. It got real to me the night me, Santana Moss and Curtis Martin went to the movies together. I was one of them now until I made a life-altering fatal mistake:

During a practice huddle, I asked a question that I should have known the answer to from studying the playbook. Quarterback Chad Pennington stopped practice, angrily cussed me out in front of everyone and demanded I be tossed out for not knowing the plays. I felt disrespected and reacted angrily by lashing out.

I was cut. I worked 15 years preparing to be here and it was all gone in 15 minutes. I was on the way home within three hours with my two bags of clothes. A limousine picked me up to take me to the airport and a kid asked for my autograph before I got in. That was my last handshake as a New York Jet.

I embarrassed myself. I let my pride get the best of me. I had only myself to blame. Had I thought it through, I could have privately gone to the coach and the quarterback before the practice and told them that I was having trouble with the playbook. I would have been ok. It was an honor to be a New York Jet. With that honor came with the responsibility of making it my first priority and I didn’t respect that. Worst of all, it was all avoidable. I did not think it through. It was my fault.
In less than 24 hours I went from the glory of being a New York Jet and shaking that kid’s hand, to sleeping on my grandmother’s living room sofa in Fort Lauderdale. No dream, no football, no girlfriend. What was left in me, however, was the comfort in the spoken word.

On the airplane home, I got out my pen and pad of paper and I started writing the poem Gone and Back in 60 seconds. That is how Floetry began.

I started performing what I wrote. For a while I was a rapper. I was on a stage with my poetry nearly every day. I started to gain a following. I was driven. Mostly I performed at lounges like the Bohemia Room, the Literary Cafe, Mellow Mondays and Blue Magic.

I poured my heart and soul into performing. There wasn’t anyone else doing what I was doing at my level of relentlessness and drive.

My writing came from within to comfort and save me and teach me this: Never stop. When all is lost, pick up whatever your personal pen and pad of paper is and start creating. Never give up on the rest of your life. Never stop.

I made good on that promise to my mother. When you come to see me perform you have to get a ticket through ticketmaster to see me at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, the place where I graduated from high school.”

3 thoughts on “Jerris Evans: Never Give Up on the Rest of Your Life

  • Karen RancourtMarch 28, 2020 at 5:58 pm

    Jerris,

    You are truly a winner and a champion in all the ways that count!

    Wishing you good health and continued success!

    Reply
  • VivJanuary 15, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    Awesome!!!!!!!

    Reply
  • m pedemonte, psy.d.January 12, 2020 at 7:08 pm

    YEah…Yeah….never give up on the rest of your life. Finding the strength and courage to pick ourselves up when we fall or a beaten ….yes, indeed a measure of our true grit.

    Reply

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