"Innovators always seek to revitalize, extend and reconstruct the status quo in their given fields, wherever it is needed...they are forever guided by the great and eternal constantthe creative urge. Let us cherish it and give all praise to God."
My friend Barry Mayo, former radio industry mogul and innovator, now an artistic photographer and award-winning documentarian once told me, there are no coincidences in the impactful moments which alter our trajectories. He calls these times in our lives in which we rise with a divine coming together of experiences, Godincidences. This word often got my attention as we discussed the meaning of life over the years. In our most recent conversations, Barry asked me, "What is Nirvana to you?" Meditating on this question changed my life because his question had no room for excuses. I now devote most of my time to writing with a purpose. Barry Mayo also taught me by example the value of practicing meditation with deep conviction. I believe prayer is when we speak to God, and in our meditations, God speaks to us. Barry's example of living a life with purpose is quite exhilarating to behold.
I first encountered Barry Mayo in 2010, while sitting in Manhattan's Penn Station ACELA lounge. I was waiting for my train to arrive while holding a book which focused on saxophonist John Coltrane. "One thought can produce millions of vibrations," John Coltrane once stated. I am drawn to his belief in the vibrations that bring together people who help us rise so we can continue to be a force for good.
While I left that very morning, a feeling came to me to bring a book on my journey when I was leaving my home in Long Beach, New York on the Atlantic Ocean. This is where I was living before Hurricane Sandy shook up the precious barrier island. I literally reversed my steps just as I was about to exit the house. A thought infiltrated my consciousness which had suddenly come over me to take the book. I walked back into my living room and gravitated to my bookcase. Which book? I pondered standing in front of my collection of favorite books then I reached out and my hand landed on Coltrane
by Dr. Cuthbert Ormond Simpkins.
I remember it was a cold night in November, and I was happy for my excursion to Vermont after a long week teaching in Queens to escape for a few days of respite. I felt someone's energy looking in my direction as I held this book with the cover facing away from me, as if people could notice I had the spirit of John Coltrane accompanying me. Barry Mayo told me after we became friends that it was indeed the book he noticed in my hand while we both waited in the ACELA Amtrak waiting room that made him sit next to me on the train ride up north.
Once on the train, tired and introverted, I did not communicate with the man sitting next to me beyond an initial smile. In fact, I knew my journey was long so I threw my coat over me, and tried to rest. I could hear Barry speaking on his phone about the fascinating industry he was leading at the time. It turns out he was the President of Radio One, a major media company. I had heard bits and pieces of some kind of business discussion that seemed important from his tone. I also remember noticing his voice was soothing and rich. I guess I get credit for noticing the distinguished voice of a professional in radio. By the time Barry was ready to exit the train, I was snacking on some food. He stood up to depart for his upstate New York home. Suddenly he turned back looking at me and asked a question. "You into John Coltrane?" as he pointed to my book which was now resting on top of my luggage in front of me. "I teach elementary school children about the life, music, and message of John Coltrane. Check out my work on kidsforcoltrane.com
," I responded with an appreciation for his interest in John Coltrane.
That was over nine years ago. Barry Mayo became one of my Coltranian mentors and a dear friend, who helped guide me and encouraged me as I grew my Kids for Coltrane project which is now all part of my social justice work. Over the years I shared with Barry that my Kids for Coltrane project focuses on jazz to teach children about American history, equality, character education, and the arts. "John Coltrane is a great artistic genius in America who is an example of love and beauty. He inspires us to muster the courage to be the best of who we can be," I expressed to him. Barry appreciated hearing about my passionate calling as he too loved jazz. Barry has made a name for himself mixing different genres of music on the radio, from hip hop, rhythm and blues, slow jams, and disco; with an understanding that jazz is America's classical music. He was heavily involved in trying to establish a Jazz Museum in Chicago and he is close friends with many musicians including Orbert Davis
who is the Artistic Director of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic.
Soon after our meeting on the train, I discovered that Barry Mayo had made a decision to leave his distinguished career in radio to pursue his other passions. I pondered what kind of man would achieve such heights so young, and let it go to follow another passion reframing his life. I discovered he is an extraordinary man, a seeker and chaser of light who also sees the influence of shadows.
Barry Mayo grew up in the South Bronx during the 1960s and in the third grade was the first African American student to integrate his elementary school. The year was 1960 and busing had started, the world was changing. It was during this experience that Barry learned how negative words from a teacher could impact the mind forever. His white teacher reprimanded him because he touched the tape on the student art that was hanging on the wall. "Remember Barry, you are only a visitor here." Harsh and ignorant racist words from a school teacher taught him a lesson that no child should ever have to learn. "I can't remember the name of any other teacher in that school, but I remember her name. She was essentially saying to me you are not part of us," he told me.
Battling racism would be part of his life story and he does it with knowledge, clarity, and determination from his confident core beliefs. Barry states that race is the single biggest issue in this country now. Living in the South Bronx and later in Harlem, for the most part, he commuted to white schools. Mayo had one foot in both worlds and wrestled with his own identity. He attended Brooklyn Technical High School in which he excelled as a top student commuting from his home in Harlem. Through these experiences, he developed great friendships with people from different races, but never really felt comfortable in his own skin until he was in his 40's. These feelings would be the genesis of his interest in race and specifically in how people who were mixed-race identified. Although he is African American, he related to trying to navigate both the black and white worlds.