The first time Jay caught my eye was in June of 2020. He was paces away from where George Floyd had died. He was dressed in full denim and wore a brown gardening hat with a flower attached to the brim. His 6’9” figure and calming presence seemed to captivate a small audience as he purposefully lowered himself to sit next to a little boy who had noise cancelling headphones covering his ears. The two sat close on the pavement as their eyes bounced from the flowers on the ground to the helicopters in the sky to the wooden fist placed in the middle of the intersection. Animated and smiling together, it was as if the world created a little pocket in time for just the two of them. Now, ten months later, Jay still remembers every detail of that afternoon spent together.
I don’t escalate with a loud voice, I escalate in silence. When I rise, that’s when it’s already too late.” Jay Webb.
Years earlier, Jay had found himself hurting and sleeping on his elderly grandparents couch after his lush professional basketball career came to an end. He cut grass and used the little money he had to plant flowers, beautifying the space and transforming it into something that pleased his grandparents.
Jay’s gardening skills have flourished since then, and he contributes heavily to what is now known as George Floyd Square. During the rise last summer he planted over 2,000 gladiolus bulbs, a hundred lilies, and lemon grass in the greenway.
“That was just the start, it’s a community effort,” he said of the space that now includes several gardens, flowerbeds and a greenhouse in which he uses frankincense to keep the bugs away.
“This place is about healing. People say, ‘I came here to mourn but I left such a certain way,’ because God can give you beauty for ashes in a way you don’t imagine. And here it is, you’re standing right in front of it. You have Stonehead cabbage growing out of an old gutter with old coal, in the middle of the city. That’s it. And it’s still growing and thriving.
I’m the hope of the slave. Not just America, but all slaves. I’m the hope of everyone who has ever been enslaved to anything ever. That’s who I am.”
I found myself hanging on each word Jay spoke, wanting them to sink down in my soul so I wouldn’t forget. He was giving me and the world this gift of his words.
Jay skillfully moved about the outside of the greenhouse, tending the plants and watering each flower bed. “The question is, what am I really gardening? Where are the real flowers that I’m tending to? It’s the people, you see,” He said excitedly as he saw on my face that I was understanding the message. “I make time for the flowers but the people have the now. The flowers are the in-between. A world with flowers doesn’t do anything if you don’t have the people.”
I asked Jay if there was anything he wished the world knew about Black men specifically, in this time and place. He said, “We are of peace. We are of peace. Now is our time to stand in peace. Stand in the peace of our vision, our identity. I know what they may have said about me, but I am the head and not the tail, the top not the bottom, I am above and not beneath. I have a purpose on my life and my shine is not meant to fit your lightbulb.”
Jay’s voice was full of hope and conviction as he added, “It is meant to be a lighthouse to the weary. Black men. King.”