Every now and then someone walks into a room, makes eye contact, a door to your heart opens and they walk right in. That’s exactly what happened to me the morning of June 19, 2013 when I met Rocky Jones. It was a two way exchange, a soul encounter. I can count my in person exchanges with him on one hand, literally – three days of Art of Hosting training, two dinners – one with others and one in my home – what was to be the beginning of a next phase of important and difficult work in the world and now is a sum total of something that cannot be readily explained in words.
Carolann Wright-Parks, a friend and colleague near and dear to my heart, had persuaded Rocky to attend the first half day of an Art of Hosting training for African Nova Scotian facilitators on behalf of the Ujamaa board, to show support.
Even then, given his health, Rocky knew his time was precious. He gave thought and care to how best to devote his time, telling us fishing had a strong call on him. He came for the morning, participated in our opening circle, heard my good friend from MInnesota, Dave Ellis do a teach on World View (inspired by the work we are doing with Jerry Nagel of Meadowlark) and was inspired enough to clear his calendar for the next three days to participate.
His presence in my heart grew deeper roots the next morning when, as a group we were checking in to the day and this 71 year old man, a man who has seen and experienced much in his day, who shifted the shape of the world for so many in the province of NS and beyond, a legend in his own time, sat there in full humility marvelling at how much he does not yet know, how much he has to learn. He knew, like so many of us when we encounter the wisdom of ancient futurism alive in the Art of Hosting that here was something that when we practice it could shift the shape of how we show up together and just possibly could shift the shape of our most entrenched problems.
And he knew about entrenched problems having encountered them since the time he was twelve, as he describes in this TedTalk on Breaking Down Social Barriers. In our three days I watched him in his passion, curiosity and marvel as we shared frameworks for understanding he had never seen before and as he shared the history of African Nova Scotians making these frameworks come alive in his experience and the experience of the whole group.
I watched his incredulity at dinner one night in deep conversation with Roshanda Cummings a young woman from San Francisco who was on our hosting team about engaging youth, about how as a young Black woman, at times, she feels abandoned by her elders. He listened deeply, asking questions, trying to understand her experience and what he could learn that could help him invite youth in a way that they could find meaning and be supported in their journey too.
When the Art of Hosting was over, I couldn’t wait for the next conversation we would be in, and the next, and the next – looking forward to learning from and with this man and to working with him. He reached out to me with a sense of urgency, wanting to find a time before I was on vacation and traveling again, thankfully, or it never would have happened.
At dinner in my home, we shared stories of journey, talked about the sense of soul connection. He said to me, “When I walked into that room, you really stood out.” I paused for the briefest of moments and responded, “Well, I was the only white person in the room.” We both laughed because we both knew that wasn’t what he meant. Soul journeyers feeling the immediacy of connection.
He also said to me as we talked about a book he was in the process of writing with others, capturing the stories of his journey, “There isn’t enough time.” As I imagined the work of the coming months, I told him, “There is always enough time.”
Turns out, he was right. I have no doubt he was sensing his path. And now he continues his work energetically in the spiritual realm. And his work on the physical realm will be continued by many who have been deeply inspired by him, his authenticity, integrity, impact and ongoing sense of journey.
I grieve deeply for a man I met for a few brief seconds of life, who impacted me deeply. I can only imagine the depth of grief of those who’ve known him longer and also the sense of celebration of a full life, a life worth living. I celebrate knowing him and I will carry him in my heart and soul journey in my own continuing exploration of race and racism and of changing the conversations to ones of community, healing, belonging and acceptance.
The ancestors live on in us. Rocky lives on in many.