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Chris James, Spoken-Word Poet and Author

Chris James

Listen to Learn & Hear:

  • The motivation behind Chris's passion to make an impact
  • Chris recite his poems "Imperfect Picture" and "You"
  • Chris's Four Steps to Success
  • The importance of establishing, building and maintaining relationships

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Chris James, is a national award-winning poet. His plays include Dear Black People and The Odds Against US. He has been featured on the front cover of the Arkansas Times Newspaper for being one of Arkansas’ top visionaries. James is a member of Foreign Tongues poetry slam team, ranking second in the world’s second largest poetry competition in 2014. He is the founder of Arkansas’ only poetry venue and second black owned gallery, The House of Art. He hosts art integrated workshops and is a motivational speaker.

Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com

Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com



[00:00:08] GM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider’s view into the commonalities of successful people and the ups and downs of risk taking. Connect with Kerry through her candid, often funny and always informative weekly blog where you’ll read, learn and may comment about her life as a 21st century wife, mother, daughter and entrepreneur.

And now it’s time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.


[00:00:39] KM: Thank you, son, Gray. My guest today is Mr. Chris James. He’s well-known for his achievement as a national award-winning, spoken word, poet laureate. But like so many creative people, he’s more than that. Chris is a playwright, educator, photographer, author, producer, TED Talk speaker and survivor.

As a young black man fathering a child at 16, he has walked the walk of hopelessness and homelessness, and now talks the talk of empowerment as he pays his experience and knowledge forward through a variety of artistic mediums. In 2016, he was featured on the front cover of Arkansas Times newspaper for being one of Arkansas’ top visionaries.

Chris is an entrepreneur. He founded The House of Art, Arkansas’ only poetry venue. He is a member of the Foreign Tongues Poetry Slam Team, who ranked second place in the world in 2014, and he is a K through 12 artist teacher conducting across the country workshops that educate on racial barriers and socioeconomic challenges and how to overcome it, and on his side hustle, he’s passionate about mental health awareness.

It is a pleasure to welcome to the table what his friends say about him, the man, the myth, the educator, the impactful, Mr. Chris James.

[00:02:07] CJ: Yeah.

[00:02:07] KM: You can tell I’ve been all over your website.

[00:02:10] CJ: Yeah, you have. You have. I appreciate that. It was beautiful.

[00:02:14] KM: Thank you.

[00:02:14] CJ: That was like the best introduction I’ve ever had in life.

[00:02:18] KM: Wow!

[00:02:19] CJ: Oh my God!

[00:02:21] KM: So the name of your website is called The Chris James Journey, the chrisjamesjourney.com, which is a really apt name for your website, and is really the core of everything that you do. So let’s just start with this journey today. Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about your family.

[00:02:42] CJ: Man! I grew up with my mother, my two brothers, and that was it. Family now. I’m a father of five beautiful children, my twin daughters are right over there in the next studio looking at us. Yeah.

[00:03:00] KM: But your mother told you when you were young, most black man by the age of 25 will be either dead or in jail.

[00:03:12] CJ: Oh, yeah. America told me that. The world told me that, and I’ve seen that all my life. I’m still seeing that. Just being an educator, just being a community activist, I’m seeing that truth and it’s a reality. A lot of young people, black boys and girls are either dying physically way before the age of 25 or dying mentally and emotionally. Becoming parents at 13, 14, 15, or dealing with traumatizing situations that ruing their lives mentally and emotionally.

Yeah, and that’s one of the main reasons I do what I do today, because I realize there are so many people who come from where I come from all dealing with a level of mental illness because of the form of poverty we come from.

[00:04:03] KM: Your third grade teacher passed you.

[00:04:06] CJ: You’ve been listening at –

[00:04:07] KM: I loved it.

[00:04:09] CJ: Come on, Kerry.

[00:04:09] KM: Come on! Your third grade teacher as you what?

[00:04:12] CJ: My third grade teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and my response was alive, because by that time I had seen more black boys die than I was able to digest. You’ve been listening to my poetry.

[00:04:26] KM: Mm-hmm.

[00:04:27] CJ: Yes.

[00:04:28] KM: And that’s a real response. I don’t think if you ask my kids what they want to be when they grow up in the third grade. If you ask them what they want to be when they grow up, I don’t think they would have said alive. That’s a reality.

[00:04:39] CJ: Yeah.

[00:04:41] KM: So there is fatherless children, which is one of the socioeconomic problems you speak about.

[00:04:48] CJ: Yeah.

[00:04:49] KM: Incarceration.

[00:04:50] CJ: Yeah.

[00:04:51] KM: Homicide. Black on black homicide is amazing. The dropout rate in school, and then the teen pregnancy. Those are the issues that are in your poetry. How do you talk about that without making people defensive?

[00:05:11] CJ: Well, I don’t think people will get defensive about me speaking about it, because everything I speak about, I’ve lived. Again, I was 16 when I became a dad. I was 16 when both of my brothers went to prison for 25 and 40 years. I was fatherless and still fatherless at age 30. Everything I’m speaking about I’ve experienced, and I think being that I have experienced it, it allows young people. So when I go into that alternative school with kids who are only there because their probation officers told them they had to be, or kids who are angry, or currently dealing with their level of trauma.

They’re able to receive me a lot differently than they probably would receive you, because I’ve experienced this. So they’re more willing to hear me tell them that it’s possible to overcome what they’re experiencing. I talk about it, because I think it’s important to identify these struggles so you can then create solutions to overcome, because if you don’t see that stand in your neighborhood and selling drugs, breaking in houses and having babies over and over and over and over by different men, and blazey-blazey. If you don’t identify that that’s a problem in your community, you’re going to continue to live in that cycle of problems.

So through my poetry, through my art, through my stage plays, through my books, I’m letting you know that this right here is harming us as people, as a community. Yeah, I don’t think it’s a challenge at all or people become defensive, I think. People become aware and they become enlightened when I shed light on them.

[00:06:55] KM: You’re 15 when you got your first job. Why did you start working at 15?

[00:07:00] CJ: Man! I probably had my first job when I was like 7. I’ve been hustling all my life. I remember being 7 years old, my stepdad and my mom worked at McDonalds so I got all the Happy Meal toys and I had a yellow cart, a yellow tub with toys and we stayed on Willow Street in North Little Rock around the corner from Argenta, and I remember just being in front of the house selling those toys for change. I remember being in the – I think when I was 10, my birthday gift was a lawnmower, and I remember I got my first job for $20 at age 10. I remember having a pear tree at my house on 4,700 Roger Street in Rose City and selling pears, and I also have a pecan tree, selling pecans.

I remember riding my bike past a brother named Emo who still owned Waka’s Detail Shop, and I was probably like 10 or 11 at that point and he hired me to pick up the trash and the cigarette butts that was around his car detail shop, Carlisle. So I was always hustling, because I know my mom is just working hard, and even though she was working hard, we still often had the lights off. We still dealt with struggle, because that’s what comes with being black in America often. With a lack of education or just because you’re black, to be honest.

So I always just felt the desire to hustle. I saw my brothers hustling. They were hustling a little differently than I was. They were selling drugs and just involved in the streets the way that they were, but I wanted to hustle. Ever since a kid, I’ve been looking to make money for myself.

[00:08:41] KM: Did you sell drugs.

[00:08:45] CJ: Yeah, I participated in negative activities before.

[00:08:51] KM: And your brothers sold drugs, sold crack. I mean, you talk about it on your –

[00:08:54] CJ: Yeah, I talk about it through my poems, but I’ve never been asked so bluntly before. You sell crack before, right?

[00:09:01] GM: You’ve never met my mother.

[00:09:04] CJ: Clearly I have not. Kerry McCoy.

[00:09:05] KM: [inaudible 00:09:05]. I know you.

[00:09:08] CJ: This is my home girl. But, yeah. Because of their actions, again, they’re in prison right now for 25 and 40 years, which is unfortunate. Yeah.

[00:09:18] KM: But they’re dead.

[00:09:19] CJ: No. My brothers are alive. Okay. So I can tell you listen to my poem.

[00:09:24] KM: Yes. It said they were dead.

[00:09:25] CJ: But the reference in the poem was a metaphor. It says I haven’t went to visit my brother in 5 and 6 years that they’ve been gone, because every time I visit it feels like I’m relieving their funerals. The jail cells are their caskets, and the prison sentences are the writing on their tombstones. So that’s the metaphor. The metaphor is – So it’s like I feel like they lost their change at living because of these jail cells. The penitentiary, the jail cell is the casket, and the sentences are the writing on the tombstones. Yeah. So they’re very much alive.

[00:10:00] KM: When I met you, you and I were both at the Maya Angelou Project and fundraiser, which gives scholarships to young people to go to college. You were a guest poet.

[00:10:12] CJ: Yes ma’am.

[00:10:14] KM: And you started reading poetry. Do you remember which one you read? I started crying, and I thought, “Golly! This one is really good. I’m crying. What’s wrong with me? But then you said that – You told me. You said, “Well, later, I’ve read this to a bunch of teachers in class and they all started crying to.” If they’re drinking at school, then we got really problems with the education system.

[00:10:36] CJ: Yeah. I think you cried because you’re a human first.

[00:10:40] KM: Do you remember it?

[00:10:40] CJ: Yeah, I do remember.

[00:10:42] KM: Can you do it?

[00:10:42] CJ: The poem?

[00:10:43] KM: Mm-hmm?

[00:10:44] CJ: Yeah, if you cash out me $5. No! Just a joke.

[00:10:48] KM: Throw in $5. Somebody throw him $5. Golly! Yes.

[00:10:52] CJ: Yeah, I got you though.

[00:10:53] KM: All right. What’s it called?

[00:10:54] CJ: So the piece, I call it Imperfect Picture. I wrote this piece, man, like 2012. So this is about to be 8 years ago. 8 years now since in wrote it. I just don’t write it through. You read it?

[00:11:08] KM: Do it.

[00:11:09] CJ: All right. Cool. You can check out this video to this poem, my YouTube, The Chris James Journey on YouTube and all that good stuff. Welcome to the City of Death, where they don’t live long, and the children are grown by the time they’re 15-years-old. And the summers are cold, and the winters are hard, and sunshine don’t last that long. Welcome to the life of a child in the ghetto.

Imagine gunshots from the pistol of a young gangster being powered by poverty and anger. Aiming the chamber aimlessly in the open area where children run and play with no regard to danger. After all, they were just hanging, it’s a cold steep penetrated a youthful bodies of three black boys playing ball on the court to 21. Imagine a week later, that 15-year-old shooter shooting him own self in the head, neighbor taking her garbage and found him dead in the alley way with his blood stained still lays beside the dumpster. I guess he felt life was best unlived.

I saw people keeping close watch watching the time on its watch for the time to take the soul of a son of a single mother. I saw all their mothers crying and screaming, jumping over to church pews while they’re passing the preacher from the pulpit. Friends and cousins wearing t-shirts that are red, gone but not forgotten, no one dare forget them as soon as time has gone by. The only people love hurting is these mothers who are crying and dying for a chance to see their children alive one last time. Is it ironic that death stay close to young lives like pimps to prose, crack things to dope, slave masters ready to choke the life of a black beauty.

So these streets keep calling and sons and ghetto soldiers keep falling and set traps at trap houses, trapping their adolescents, promises the respect and imaginary stripes of others and a little bit of money to keep their mother’s hungry children from going hungry. Hell. It’s a win-win to them. Those who knows with the means to be poor and tell me what would you do if your lights in water were off and you are hungry and staking. What would you do?

One of my students came to school last week and he slept the entire day. I said, “Hey man! Why do you come to my class and sleep your whole life away?” He said, “It’s more peaceful in a classroom full of kids cursing than it is at my home.” I just stood. There were no response to his pain. He woke up and said, “Mr. James. What would you do?”

Imagine a young girl pregnant with her third child in 10th grade. She said her daddy was the father of all three, but he didn’t want to claim them or feed them. These words flowed her lips easy as if it was a normal situation to be the baby mama of a rapist, but she keep coming to school every Monday. Ain’t that something? That life can be so full of chaos, but you still you find the courage to live on. It’s amazing how God keep giving birth to hope and faith born from a womb of obstacles thought not to be overcome, like slave singings songs to the moonlight at night, “Follow the drinking gourd”.

Negro spirituals telling us to hold on. We can make it if we move our faith, but not by faith alone. These children at the bottom of the barrel, oh, a mission at hand, grab their hands instead of saying we can’t save them all, we can’t save all, we can’t save them all so many times until we convince our own selves that we can’t save them all. If we can’t, then who will? Nobody. Because we’re on the frontline. The expected heroes of that adolescence and they are waiting for us to save them.

This picture is painted for viewing, so view it, created by young restless children who are dying for the opportunity to live with the potential to be more than drug dealers, crack heads, prisoners, or dead. I can’t imagine giving up on these beautiful young people who are brimming with brilliance, because so many have already given up on themselves. Sitting back watching them die off slowly is no different from being a murderer. So I’ll often ask myself, “Am I a part of the solution or the continuance to this 21st century genocide?”

That’s that piece. Thank you all. Amen. Amen.

[00:15:47] KM: That’s Chris James. What’s the name of poem?

[00:15:50] CJ: Imperfect Picture.

[00:15:52] KM: That is an imperfect picture. When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with the man, Arkansas Times newspaper calls one of Arkansas’ top visionary, Chris James, educator and renowned poet. If you like what you just heard, stay tuned. More after the break.


[00:16:07] Announcer: Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a presentation of flagandbanner.com 2019 was another terrific year for interesting guests, stimulating interviews filled with unexpected and surprising revelations from all kinds of people that rarely sit down for one hour conversations. 2020 promises to be another stellar year too.

In the month of January alone, we’ve already got Jim Guy Tucker, and you can hear Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy on all kinds of platforms twice a week on local radio or wherever you like to listen to podcasts. The Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy YouTube channel, and in connection with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, now you can go to arkansasonline.com, click listen and find Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy.

Thank you for listening, and make sure you stop by our store located at 800 West 9th Street in Downtown Little Rock. Open Monday through Friday, 8 to 5:30, and Saturdays from 10 to 4. Online at flagandbanner.com.


[00:17:07] KM: You’re listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and I’m speaking today with the poet, educator, entrepreneur, and survivor, and hustler, he says, Mr. Chris James of Little Rock, Arkansas. If you’re just tuning in, you need to go back and listen to the beginning of this show and hear Chris read his own poetry. It was really wonderful.

So Overcoming the Odds is the name of the TED Talk that you gave, and you gave four steps to success. Let’s speak to each one of them and tell us why they’re important. I’ll just name them real quick. Believe, go to the mountaintop, jump and focus. Let’s start with believe.

[00:17:53] CJ: That’s what I’m talking about. You did some research, Kerry. I didn’t even remember my TED Talks and my points.

[00:18:01] KM: Okay. I’ll tell them to you.

[00:18:03] CJ: No. I appreciate it. Believe – I talked about the importance of believing in my TED Talks, because I think the first step to success. Just like when you started the Flag and Banner company with $400. Somebody else probably would’ve looked at you like, “That’s crazy.”

[00:18:24] KM: I’ll tell you the one they thought was crazy, when I bought the Taborian Hall downtown.

[00:18:29] CJ: Exactly.

[00:18:30] KM: That was a burned out building when I bought it. Go ahead. I’m sorry.

[00:18:32] CJ: But you are crazy enough to believe in yourself. I was listening to – What was it? The Apple commercial with Steve Jobs. He was giving a speech and he talked about the people who are crazy enough to believe that they can change the world use little ones to do. I’m a strong believer that you have to believe that much in yourself to be successful. Or a longtime, I believed in myself.

So I used the quote in my TED Talks that Peter Pan was told that if he believes and thinks happy thoughts, he can fly. There are a lot of folks who never got the opportunity to fly in life, because they simply don’t believe in themselves. So how do you want somebody to believe in you or to invest in your idea, to invest time in listening to your ideas or your dreams when you don’t wholeheartedly believe in them yourself.

I think that’s the first step to being successful. You got to believe. No matter how much you doubt yourself or no matter how much negative things you’ve experienced in your life. No matter how much trauma. No matter how rich you’re not. No matter how much support you don’t have immediately. You got to believe, right?

When I open my art gallery, November 2014, The House of Art. A lot of folks didn’t believe that it was possible. But Chris Rocks said that people will ride past you while you’re on the side of the road with a broke down car. But once you get out of that car and start pushing yourself, pushing that car yourself, watch people pull over and start helping you, because once people see that you believe in your own vision, they’ll start standing behind you, and I’ve experienced that with every project I’ve ever done. Once people saw I was for real about it, they got behind me, because, “Oh! He believes in himself. He’s a visionary.”

[00:20:25] KM: A visionary, power of positive thinking is kind of what you’re saying.

[00:20:29] CJ: Yeah.

[00:20:30] KM: You got to talk yourself up.

[00:20:32] CJ: You got to believe. You got to believe that you are able to do.

[00:20:36] KM: Then the next one? Go to the mountaintop.

[00:20:39] CJ: Oh man! Come on now. Go to the mountain. I’m writing these down so I can remember what I used to talk about in that 2015 TED Talks. Man! Go to the mountaintop. I think I heard that quote from Steve Harvey. He talked about going to the mountaintop and then I kind of paraphrased it from there. But I took that, because you would never know if your wings work. So this is the way I look at it. We all have wings. We all have the potential to be birds, but like Maya Angelou talked about some of us are cage birds, right?

You will never know if your wings work if you don’t go to that mountaintop and just jump, right? Often, sometimes we go to that mountaintop, we take the risk, right? That’s what the mountaintop – Jumping from the mountaintop is all about. All it means is taking the risk, right? Mark Zuckerberg says that the only risk is the risk that you don’t take, right?

So you’ll never know if your wings don’t work if you don’t jump off that mountain top, right? Sometimes we jump off that mountaintop and then we just give up. We just fall into the ground, and bam! Because we didn’t know how to fly the first time. That’s the thing about flying. Even little birds when they’re pushed from the nest the first time, a lot of times they just fall. But their mama bird make them get back up so they can learn and they can keep trying to work those wings until you know how to master that flight. You can’t just jump and expect to be fully soaring. You got to take that risk.

I believe wholeheartedly in jumping off that mountaintop so you can see what it feels like, and jumping off the mountaintop can be scary and can be uncomfortable. Anything that’s great, that’s major, is going to be uncomfortable. Like you right now at the beginning of your success, of anybody’s success, is going to be uncomfortable. But success comes in mastering your discomfort.

[00:22:34] KM: That’s good. Success comes in mastering your discomfort. I have a friend who says if you’re not getting out of your comfort zone every week, you’re not living.

[00:22:45] CJ: Exactly.

[00:22:45] KM: That seems a little excessive to me. I don’t want to do it every week.

[00:22:50] CJ: Maybe yeah.

[00:22:51] KM: Maybe once a month. Once a year. My mother used to say about me. She’d say, “Kerry, you just jump off buildings and build your wings on the way down.” That really spoke to me when I saw that in your TED Talk. So that was go to the mountaintop. Think big. Believe. Dream. Believe that you can do it. Dream big. Go to the mountaintop. Take that risk. Get up there. Climb up to that mountain and then jump off. That was your third one, was to jump off. Your last one was focus.

[00:23:27] CJ: Yeah.

[00:23:28] KM: You will fall to the ground if you don’t start focusing on how to fly.

[00:23:32] CJ: Aha! Yeah. Also, it’s easy to forget what your focus is. You got to focus on your focus.

[00:23:41] KM: You said that once you started being successful, that old girlfriends, old buddies, all these people started coming around. All these old ways started coming up, and you’re like, “I have to get focused again.”

[00:23:54] CJ: Mm-hmm. What had happened to me, man, I remember when I joined the military, I went off to basic training after high school. Well, I joined the army after high school, and I remember coming back and being at the movie theater with my old friends and them getting to – I’m fresh back from basic training, maybe a week or two, and I’m an American soldier now, right? Then they get into a group fight with another group of dudes.

My homeboy got knocked out like pfff. He’s on the ground and I’m like right here and it’s like, “I can’t even jump in that, because I’m focused on my focus. I’m focused on getting out of the ghetto out of poverty so I in turn get my kids out of that. So when my brothers get out of prison in 25 and 40 years, they won’t have to come back to that, right?” I’m focused on my focus, and it’s easy to get distracted, because people you love will distract you from your focus. Especially when – It’s human for people to be jealous. That’s a human thought, human behavior.

They will unintentionally sometimes distract you like, “You about to work today, bro? All your dream? You sure you don’t want to come kick it with us?” So it’s easy to get – You sure you don’t want to come smoking blunt with us? You sure? We got like three girls over here. You sure you don’t want to go?

It’s easy to get distracted by things that you used to do with things you used to be a part of. Kerry, when you first got married, I saw some pictures of you in the magazine. You was a hot mama. Beautiful. You’re still beautiful, but I knew when you probably first got married, you were focused on your man. As soon as you got married and you’re working on being happy, suddenly old dudes hitting you up like, “Kerry, what’s up girl? You’re so fine, what’s up.”

[00:25:48] KM: That is so true?

[00:25:50] CJ: Right? That’s what happens when you focus on your focus, those old distractions just start coming out of nowhere, but you stay focused on your focus. Now 34 years later, you got these beautiful sons, you got that beautiful business. It’s a beautiful life because you stayed focus on your focus, and it ain’t always perfect. I know that. But the overall, “I made it happen,” and you all raised these children together and you all made it work.

[00:26:14] KM: We did. He’s brought back memories. I just got flustered there for a minute.

[00:26:23] CJ: [inaudible 00:26:23].

[00:26:26] KM: Why did you speak on developing relationships?

[00:26:31] CJ: Oh man. Yeah.

[00:26:32] KM: You said it’s important to develop relationships. Then you have relationships with Wildwood Performing Arts, and the Thea Foundation, and you said – I love the way when you talk in prose. You talk in prose, but it sounds like poetry, because everything kind of seems profound. You said it’s what you know. It’s who you know and it’s who knows you. Why is that important?

[00:27:00] CJ: I mean, you can be the most talented person in the world, the most talented. But if nobody knows that you are the most talented – Like right now, if I was a rapper or – Let’s say I was a rapper. I know who P. Diddy is. I know who Dr. Dre is. I know I know of them, right? But if they don’t know of me, it doesn’t matter how great I am, right? If the gatekeepers don’t know me, it don’t matter, right? So that’s important. That’s the importance of who you know, right?

So for me, early on in my career, I just started naturally initiating relationships with people and then I slowly saw the importance of what that did for my career, and these were organic relationships. I’ve been knowing for like a month now, a little over a month, but organically we’ve established a relationship. You booked me for your fundraiser event. You brought me to your radio station, and now you and I have built it organically.

I’ll just give you a perfect example. I have no college degree, but I’ve had the opportunity to speak at colleges across America. I’ve had the opportunity to speak at the U.S. Capitol. I’ve had the opportunity to train educators on how to better educate their own students. I’ve worked with thousands of students across the country teaching poetry, theater and hip-hop in these classrooms, right?

I was always just talented. I was always passionate about doing what I do, because once upon a time I was doing it all for free. But now I’m able to do it for a living. But it was because I established those genuine relationships. I initiated them. I built them, like the house, right? I maintained those relationships, and eventually those relationships benefited me in major ways. Now because of all that, I’m able to just wake up every day and be a poet, to be an artist, because of those relationships.

Relationships are so important. For example, your sons are able to benefit from something you started because of that relationship, right? That’s the same when we got to look at relationships with people in the world. I tell students all the time like you should go to college not for necessarily the information, but those relationships are so important, because that’s your first space to be able to like for real networking, because 4, 5 years from now, those people who you went to college with are going to be decision makers. They’re going to be major influencers in the world.

[00:29:37] KM: That’s good advice.

[00:29:38] CJ: Or wherever. You go to college to network. But also you got to learn some rules so you can then learn how to bend the rules, right? Literally, if you go to school, if you go to college to be a sound engineer, you go learn it the way that they teach it. Now that you mastered how they teach you, now you can go bend the rules a little bit, right?

[00:29:55] KM: Make it yours.

[00:29:57] CJ: Yeah. But that networking piece is the most important across the board. I know people right now who just graduated from college who can’t find a job because they never did the networking piece first.

[00:30:08] KM: Don’t throw people away.

[00:30:10] CJ: Exactly.

[00:30:11] KM: Collect them.

[00:30:11] CJ: Collect them.

[00:30:13] KM: All right. You did a poem at the Fundraiser for Dreamland Ballroom. Can you remember it?

[00:30:18] CJ: Yup. Yeah.

[00:30:19] KM: It’s a great one. Okay. This one’s uplifting. Are you ready to do that one? What’s the name of it?

[00:30:24] CJ: It was called You.

[00:30:26] KM: It’s a fun one.

[00:30:27] CJ: Yeah.

[00:30:28] KM: We’ll do it with you.

[00:30:29] CJ: What’s up Ms. Wendy? What’s up [inaudible 00:30:31]? What’s up everybody tuned in? Thank you all for checking this out. Yeah, here’s the poem.

[00:30:38] KM: Okay. Let’s do it. Chris James, You.

[00:30:42] CJ: This poem is about being enough. I know a lot of times we feel like we ain’t enough and then we’re in we ain’t supposed to be, but this poem is telling you that you are where you’re supposed to be and enjoy your process.

You, you got a lot to smile for. You, you got a lot to live for. You, you got a lot to do. So you, you can’t give up now. You, you got a lot to smile for. You, you got a lot to live for. You, you got a lot to do. So you, you can’t give up now.

This is a poem for all the humans who ever had the nerve to question their own existence. God called me and told me to tell you that he designed you in perfect on purpose. There is nothing in your mirror you should question. Your flaws are beautiful, accept them. Don’t listen to what them naysayers be telling. Tell them you ain’t buying what they’re selling, because what you already got is a top quality, invaluable commodity came straight from the source. When you were born, you were pure gold, when you popped on your mother’s belly. Ain’t nothing you need missing.

You are extraordinarily exquisite. You’re perfect in that picture. You hang on the walls of hearts like art, no need to alter your image for the rest of your days be bold and resilient. And the tough of the times. I want you to rise from the ashes like a phoenix. Your presence is a present on Christmas. It’s anticipated by many. They sit and wait on your arrival like children wait on Santa to come down the chimney. Your entrance into the room is grand. Nothing about you miniscule. You are well-rounded, 360. No degrees missing. For the rest of your days, hold your head up high as if you’re on a mission, because you are. You got a purpose, and you are on purpose. Don’t live life like you are accident. You are fully insured, so rest assure that your greatness if already written in stone.

I saw a man who was homeless and hungry, but y’all, he was smiling from cheek-to-cheek, when in my opinion, he had too good reasons to complain. But his joy is a reminder that there was always a ray of sunshine somewhere. Just because you don’t see it immediately, don’t mean anything. Sometimes you got to open your eyes, lean in and look a little bit closer. There’s always beauty in the blemishes behind the boarder so the basics in a background like a background singer with just much gift from God as the girls and the guys in the front.

Just because they shine bright, don’t make your light dim. Stop comparing. You are not like them. Just because they got it, it doesn’t mean you don’t. Sometimes you just got to be patient, because maybe your miracle is marinating and your blessing is still baking and you can’t rush perfection. God [inaudible 00:33:42]. You are a magnificent masterpiece. You’re made in the image of the most high. With the faith of a mustard seed, you can move mountains. That’s magic.

Why are you worrying when you’re supposed to be the child of a warrior? You got it. Everything you ever desired is already inside your heart. There’s no need for a wizard of Oz, when all you got to do was open your eyes and then realize that it’s always been there the entire time.

You, you got a lot to smile for. You, you got a lot to live for. You, you got a lot to do. So you, you can’t give up now. One more time. You, you got a lot to smile for. You, you got a lot to live for. You, you got a lot to do. So you, you can’t give up now.

That’s that piece.

[00:34:51] KM: Love it, Chris James. Name of that poem is You. We love that poem. I want to tell everybody real quick that we’re going to take a quick break. We’ll be back with Chris James, the man, the myth, the poet and the educator after the break.


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[00:36:07] KM: You’re listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and I’m speaking today with poet, author, educator, entrepreneur, playright and visionary, Mr. Chris James from Little Rock, Arkansas. I would say if you have any questions, you can call him, but we’re running out of time. So I’m going to skip that.

People can reach you at the chrisjamesjourney.com.

[00:36:28] CJ: Yeah.

[00:36:28] KM: And how else can they reach you?

[00:36:30] CJ: They can reach me on all social medias as it relates to Chris James Journey. You can just put in Chris James journey, website, Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, it’ll all come up.

[00:36:42] KM: And you come and speak to groups and do seminars from K through 12 on –

[00:36:49] CJ: Yeah. I speak to any group, K through 12. I do college. I do organizations, educators, trainings. Yeah, I speak to any group. Yeah. I’m a motivational speaker. I’m an inspirational speaker. I even teach you how to make a living off your art.

[00:37:07] KM: I do love that part about you. You teach people how to make – Turn their art into their business.

[00:37:14] CJ: Yeah. There’s no reason you should be a starving artist, especially if you’re good at what you’re doing.

[00:37:17] KM: And passionate, I guess. So here are some of your quotes; “I promote that success if not a destination, but rather a process, a journey.”

[00:37:28] CJ: Come on now. That’s the whole spill behind the journey. Yeah. Embrace the journey. A lot of folks get overwhelmed by – For instance, you’re building a house and you realize that, man, in order to build that house, I got to get a new roof. I got to get the plumbing done, the electrical, the whole – This whole shebang. A lot of folks, they get distracted from their focus, because they get overwhelmed by the whole picture instead of realizing that it’s a process. Let’s do a little bit at a time. It’s a journey, not a destination. You can’t just pull up to it and the house is done by the snap of a finger. You ain’t Sabrina from the witch show we used to watch back in the day. It’s a process. You got to build brick at a time, especially when it comes to your dreams.

If you guys watch Les Brown, he talks about the bamboo tree. I’m going to paraphrase his story, but the bamboo tree, it’s a plant that grows I think in Japan. I’m paraphrasing. Just look it up later for yourselves. In short it says that it takes the bamboo tree five years to grow, but it doesn’t break around into the 5th year. You got to water that plant, that seed for 5 years, and on the 5th year, it breaks ground. Within months, it shoots 50 feet in the air, right? So that’s what I mean by process.

Somebody said the other day, Karon Joseph Riley, an actor, he says that if you’re getting in your field and you don’t expect to be in it for 20 years, just get out. If you expect to be successful in two years, three years, if you’re not willing to wait and work towards it for 20 years before that real success is there, just get out the business.

[00:39:24] KM: You know, I worked a part-time job for 9 years before Arkansas Flag and Banner could pay my rent.

[00:39:30] CJ: Yeah.

[00:39:31] KM: That’s discouraging.

[00:39:31] CJ: Yeah, it is.

[00:39:32] KM: If I had known that starting it, I’ll probably wouldn’t have done it. For 9 years, you’re going to have wait tables while you do this. You also said, “In order to overcome the odds against you, you must become aware of them.” You spoke about that earlier.

[00:39:49] CJ: I did.

[00:39:51] KM: About you’ve got to know what’s wrong with this picture to know how to ever fix it.

[00:39:57] CJ: Yeah. If you don’t know you’re drowning, you don’t know that you need to swim.

[00:40:03] KM: Everything he says is poetry.

[00:40:06] CJ: Hey, you know – That’s real. There’s a lot of folks drowning, and they don’t realize they need to swim. That you, for real, need to start moving your arms. A fish don’t know that water is around them, because they become so used to it, right? There are a lot of people who are in these waters and they’re not even fish. You’re not even supposed to be in this, but you’ve been told since the day that you were born that you’re supposed to be in this water, but bro you’re drying. You need to swim and get to dry land, right? That was me.

[00:40:43] KM: Were you homeless?

[00:40:44] CJ: No. I wasn’t homeless.

[00:40:46] KM: I thought I read on there that you were homeless at one time?

[00:40:48] CJ: That ain’t me. A lot of artists were saying they were homeless. No, whatever. I have a home. I went home to my mama house. She always accepted me back.

[00:40:54] KM: Is your mama still alive?

[00:40:56] CJ: Yeah, she’s very much alive.

[00:40:59] KM: That’s good. Try is a fixation of failure. Do it. What does that mean?

[00:41:03] CJ: Oh man! I always tell folks to remove the doubt words from your mind, right? Think about it. When your mama told you when you were young that I’m going to try, I’m going to try to do that, or when you tell yourself, man, “Hey, you’re going to pass that test in physics or chemistry, Kerry.” “I’m going to try.” You’re already doubting yourself. So remove try from your vocabulary. Remove might and maybe and probably from your vocabulary, because you are self-consciously doubting yourself and already sending yourself for failure. So try is a fixation for failure. You are fixing yourself up for failure when you speak try from your mouth.

[00:41:40] KM: Wow! Okay. Here’s another one, “There is not a shortage of opportunity, just a shortage of people executing.”

[00:41:50] CJ: There’s not a shortage of opportunity, just a shortage of people executing on theirs. I believe that there’s this bank of life, right? Everybody got their millions in it, right? But there’s a wall in between the bank and it got guards on the wall. You got these barbed wires on the wall. They’re separating you from your bank, from your million dollars in that bank of like. There are a lot of folks who don’t realize that the guards, they’re just there to protect somebody from getting to yours. They don’t realize that those are friendly waters and all you got to do is just go over there and grab what’s yours.

There are a lot of people who are fearful of the unknown. We’re scared. People are afraid to step outside of their comfort zone and jump off the mountain. Go to that wall, go over it or go around it, whatever it takes, and get to your bank of your million dollars or your success, because we all have the ability to get what we need if we go to the bank of life and get what’s our already.

[00:42:57] KM: Do you believe we all have a destiny to fulfill?

[00:42:59] CJ: Yeah. We definitely all have a destiny to fulfill.

[00:43:03] KM: What’s yours?

[00:43:04] CJ: Man! My destiny? It’s definitely to inspire people to be more. I had a movement, I still a movement called Redefining your Success, and that movement consists of, again, getting people to identify their struggles so that they can create solutions to overcome, so they can then redefine their success. I’m doing that on so many levels by educating young people to see that there’s more.

When I became a father at 16, I didn’t necessarily know that there was more out there for me, and I wish I had a Chris James to tell me and show that it was. It wasn’t until I was an adult, like 20 years old, that I met black people who had college degrees and own homes. So growing up, I didn’t believe that was something that was possible.

So I believed that I can be whatever that was tangible. I saw the drug dealers. I saw the rappers on TV. So these were realities that were tangible. So that’s what a lot of young people are going after. So I want to show young people that it’s possible to be more than what they see.

[00:44:14] KM: How do they figure it out?

[00:44:16] CJ: I think that’s a loaded question. I say we just to keep reaching.

[00:44:22] KM: I guess you would say they find it up by dreaming big. Not letting fear stand in their way. I think fear is crippling. You’ve talked about it a lot. Dreams are greater than fear. We’re captains of our destiny, and that people make excuses to not chase their dreams like, “But just not right now, or I don’t want to make the sacrifices, or I’ll wait for something super natural to happen.”

[00:44:44] CJ: You did your research, Kerry. These are, for real, quotes that I’d have said. I haven’t heard them since in a decade. I’m like, “Did I say that? All right.” You dug deep.

[00:44:56] KM: It’s true.

[00:44:57] CJ: Yeah. It’s all true.

[00:44:57] KM: I feel like I’ve said all of those things to my children when they were growing up. Don’t let fear keep you from fulfilling your destiny. Dream as big as you can dream and believe you can get there.

[00:45:07] CJ: Dream big. I used to be sacred to dream big.

[00:45:10] KM: A lot of people are scared to dream big. I got in trouble all the time for daydreaming, and I think it’s a wonderful thing. I daydreamed all the time about what my life would be like as an adult. Not that it came out exactly like that, but it gave you a goal to work towards.

[00:45:25] CJ: But do know how beautiful life would be if people actually believed their daydreams are? I personal know people, their biggest aspirations is having to own an apartment and a car. That’s their biggest aspirations. I know people that I grew up with who never left the State of Arkansas, like going to Memphis, Tennessee. It’s huge for them. Huge, right? But imagine if people actually believed that their daydreams could become a reality. Man! Life would be so much better. So much more beautiful.

[00:46:02] KM: For everybody.

[00:46:03] CJ: For everybody.

[00:46:03] KM: I want to tell everybody, you’re listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and I’m speaking today with poet, educator, author, entrepreneur and survivor, Mr. Chris James of Little Rock, Arkansas, and he’s available to hire. He hires out. He’s absolutely an inspirational speaker. His website is the chrisjamesjourney.com, and anytime you type in to any social media Chris James Journey, you’re going to get in touch with him and he will come and talk to you.

I did have one more poem I wanted you to read that I never heard you do that I saw on your website. Are you ready to do that one?

[00:46:39] CJ: Yeah. I’d like to speak to all the women on behalf of every black man, and today I’d like to be totally honest. I have no emotional capacity for your sorrows or your situations. I have too much my own baggage to borrow your burdens and maybe believe. Usually, I’ll be willing to swallow my pride to pacify your problems. But today, my son rise on a different side of the mountain. Yes, you’re still mad. But today, I’m mad a little bit more.

I’ve been wiping your tears for years. Today, I need you to wipe mine. No. I was never forcefully penetrated, but I too have had my innocence stolen way before I knew what it meant to be black man in America. I’ve been touched and molested in ways words can’t describe. I’m still trying to figure out how being something so beautiful can be a burden. It burns, my life is a lottery ticket and at any given moment, I can become some police officers paid vacation. The world’s less hashtag, of face on a suit, an excuse for a riot, some lawyers rise to fame. I am just as much a man as any man, but I too cry rivers, enough to fill the now.

They’ve been running for a while now and it aint 1855, but I’ve been whipped by the world too many times to keep counting, and my back is about exhausted from bleeding from these lashes. It’s easy for you to say suck it up and be a man. Be a father. But he didn’t see all my days other than uncle Phil. These rows are a lot more mental than they are tangible. It ain’t no accident. There’s so many black men still behave as boys and can’t define fatherhood no one ever paid these roles for us. We are struggling to do it ourselves while still being respected to carry you on our shoulders. Sometimes us men feel inadequate. Well, I’m sure, if we still ignite the flames to your fire, compliment us. Remind us that we still matter.

Know that affection doesn’t just begin or end with the width of our arms wrapped around your body, but your touch is desired just as much. Fill us up with love, because sometimes it feels as if we’ll a little bit empty. Always know that you are and always will be the key to our peace of mind. If there’s ever a time that we’re quiet, or frustrated, or unpredictable, know that we’re crying on the inside, because we too feel pain.

I once heard someone say that crying is like taking your soul to the laundry mat, and as men, we’re well overdue for our cleansing. Again, women, we’ve been wiping your tears for years. But today, we need you to wipe ours.

[00:49:52] KM: Love it, Chris James. Go to his website. He’s got lots of YouTube videos that you can watch and get your fuel for the day. Chris, I have a gift for you.

[00:50:06] CJ: Come on. Gifts?

[00:50:08] KM: Come on. Gifts?

[00:50:08] CJ: I like gifts.

[00:50:09] KM: It’s a U.S. and the Arkansas flag.

[00:50:12] CJ: Of course!

[00:50:14] KM: And there’s a stand so that you can put it on a desk. Do you have a desk or do you just travel out of your car all the time?

[00:50:20] CJ: Yeah, I have a desk. I don’t use it. It’s full of stuff.

[00:50:26] KM: It’s a shelf. You have a desk shelf.

[00:50:28] CJ: Yup.

[00:50:29] KM: That’s what it is.

[00:50:30] CJ: Amen. It’s official.

[00:50:32] KM: I have really enjoyed visiting with you. What do you want your legacy to be?

[00:50:36] CJ: My children.

[00:50:38] KM: Oh! Sweet. Do you hear that, children? He brought his children down here. Look, they’re not paying attention to daddy. Those are some comfortable kids. When they’re not paying attention to their daddy, they’re secure.

Thank you, Chris, for all you do.

[00:50:50] CJ: Thank you. Can I say one more thing?

[00:50:52] KM: Sure.

[00:50:54] CJ: Man! Everybody make sure I connected with me. My next big project is the Arkansas Theater Festival, which is happening March 5th through 7th 2020 at Pulaski Tech at the [inaudible 00:51:05] building.

[00:51:06] KM: When is it?

[00:51:07] CJ: March 5th through the 7th.

[00:51:09] KM: We’ll put a link on Arkansas Flag and Banner’s website also so you can go there and type in Chris James’ name and we’ll have a link there too.

[00:51:15] CJ: Two and a half months way.

[00:51:16] KM: Anybody can sign up for it?

[00:51:18] CJ: Anybody.

[00:51:19] KM: You don’t have to be a student?

[00:51:20] CJ: Yeah. Anybody can come watch the shows. We have plays coming from L.A., Atlanta, Nashville, Oklahoma and Arkansas, of course, and there’s going to be a lot of great stage plays. 12 stage plays in three days. So come see it.

[00:51:32] KM: That will be great. I want to tell everybody, thanks for spending time with us, and we’ll see you next week.


[00:51:38] GM: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. For links to resources you heard or discussed on today’s show, go to flagandbanner.com, select radio and choose today’s guest. All interviews are recorded and posted the following week. Subscribe to podcasts wherever you like to listen.

Kerry’s goal is simple, to help you live the American dream.


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