Updated: Jan 4
How Jeron Dorsey saved 2020 and kicked off 2021 on the best foot ever.
When Jeron Rock Dorsey was a kid, his mom nicknamed him "Rock." He thinks it's because he had a big head. Or maybe because his head was hard. He's not sure. Regardless, starting in fourth grade, Jeron's friends started calling him Rock too, and the name stuck.
Today, at 31, Dorsey is the program director at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center. He has two small children, three months to go till he receives his MA in Sports Management from Northwestern University, and is highly respected as a role model by many in the Evanston community. With firm determination he has made his way, weathered adversities along the road, and realizes that his nickname--once attributed to his big, hard head, is now more a tribute to his big, soft, but solid heart.
"Now it kind of symbolizes something different, you know, and people are making me realize that," he said when we chatted via Zoom this afternoon.
I've known Jeron for about three years, mostly because he's the person with whom I book the Fleetwood-Jourdain auditorium for our every-other-month Dear Evanston Racial Justice Book group, and he's there to set it up and respond to all our group's needs. Even through our fairly minimal contact, I've always sensed he was special.
But when I received an email from him on New Year's Eve telling me that he wanted to donate his entire $2,500 paycheck and a bunch of gift cards to the Jackson family, who a week earlier had lost their apartment and almost everything in it as a result of an early-morning fire, I knew he was a true mensch*.
Jeron had heard some details about the fire from an Evanston Police Department officer who was at the scene and who went into action to mobilize support for the family. But a few days later he read the whole story about Mayra and Latwian Jackson and their two young sons in the Dear Evanston newsletter.
"It actually brought me to tears," Jeron said.
I was so taken with Jeron's generosity that I posted about it on Facebook on January 1. To date, the post has been seen by 22,000 people, 'liked' almost 700 times, and shared 127 times.
"Well I definitely wasn't expecting that," Jeron, who isn't on Facebook, laughed.
I wanted to ask Jeron why he thought his action made such an impression on so many people and to find out what inspired him to such kindness. We talked about this ... and about a lot more.
DE: Why do you think your gesture captured people's hearts?
JD: I think the biggest thing is that people just don't expect that out of people anymore. When I initially decided to do it, I had no intentions on getting any recognition. It was truly from the bottom of my heart. But I think that when people show more of their true self, I think it inspires other people to do similar things. It doesn't have to be at that same level, it doesn't even have to be financially, but I think during this time it's super important and people are looking for inspiring things. We have to lean on one another.
DE: What was it particularly about this story that hit you?
JD: The biggest thing that hit me is I see myself in that story. I have two young children as well. It could have so easily been me in that same situation, and what really really hurt me about it was that this year has been such a tough year already.
And two days before one of the most joyful holidays of the year, something so tragic can happen. It really touched me deeply. I've always been a person that has a lot of compassion for other people. And I just could not ignore the fact that this family had lost literally everything.
When I read it, it made me very emotional. One reason being is because my aunt passed four years ago on New Year's Eve. She was preparing for a new family tradition. She wanted to do a New Year's Day breakfast. And so she's cleaning up her house prepared for all of us family to come. She had a severe heart attack and died, and she was only 38 years old at that time.
So I was emotional that day already. And it's common for me to check my email as soon as I wake up, and I'm like, 'Oh I haven't heard from Nina in a while. Let's see what this is about.' So, I read it and it just, man, it took me into a deeper state of emotion.
And then after that I just prayed about it, and I got all my guidance from God from there.
DE: That's a really sad story. It sounds like your emotions about the day and about the season are very wrapped up in that, and understanding tragedy, and having the empathy for somebody else's tragedy because of your own.
DE: You said in the letter to the Jackson family that you were born and raised in the 5th Ward.
JD: I actually live in Round Lake now. I haven't lived in Evanston for about 10 years, but I'm deeply rooted in that community, of course, by working there. I love the community. I grew up there. I see the kids running around--that was me.
DE: One of the things you said in the letter to the Jacksons was that you yourself had experienced being down.
JD: I grew up as not the most stable kid. We didn't grow up super wealthy. My dad died from renal failure when I was in eighth grade. I've experienced pain all my life. God has blessed me recently to overcome a lot of things, and I'm kind of living in my abundance right now. And I think that's truly testament to me getting closer to faith, and believing in something bigger than myself.
It has truly been a blessing. We know this family has sacrificed so much with this tragic event. And I asked myself, 'What can you sacrifice to make a difference in their life?' And my check was just the first thing that came to mind.
What really touched me about the Jackson family was that Black dad, because I see myself in him. I have not met this guy ever in my life. And, I mean, I felt like I've known him forever. Mayra told me that 'We're family now.' Man, as long as I'm alive I'm always going to be involved in that family's life.
DE: When you got my newsletter, it made you cry, and then when I got your email it made me cry!
One of the last times I saw you was in the summer in the parking lot at Church and Dodge at the Black Male Alliance rally. How do you see the state of the Black community in Evanston? How can the community, particularly the white community, support and help uplift the Black community?
JD: The Black Male Alliance was brought to me by Nathan Norman. He's been a good friend of mine for many, many years and Nathan and I have a lot of deep conversations about racial equity and we've grown to have more candid conversations about stuff that really matters.
Nathan came to me with this idea and I love to be a part of something like that. And as we started to plan for how we will move along, because we are just getting started on this alliance group, we decided our first phase would be the rally. And I was kind of nominated to speak there.
What I saw at that event that inspired me was how many white people actually showed up to that event, and supported our movement. And I think little things like that is what really matters--when we all can come together and agree to disagree but still work towards a common goal. I think that's beautiful, man. I mean, this is a long journey that we're traveling, and we can't do it alone.
So I think that is one of the most important things a white person can do to help support Black people in this community.
DE: This captured everybody's imagination because it was a fire, because it was right before Christmas, and because you really showed up. What are ways that people can show up every day?
JD: My motto has always been to push and build up others. Once you shift your mindset to know that what you do is not only about you and your family, I think that we as a whole will come out much better.