That’s my grandfather on the far right. He was part of a semi-pro Negro League team sponsored by National Cash Register. This photo was taken during a holiday donation at the Fairgrounds. I was born about 30 years after this picture was taken and I found this picture 20 years after he died.
My grandfather rarely spoke. My grandmother — his first wife — and his second wife spoke for him. He bowled and smoked and watched games on TV. He was the baby of the family — my great grandmother called him Baby til her death. He drank Pepsi out of the bottle and had an occasional Big Mac.
And he drove me around.
He was who I wanted to be when I grew up. Flaws and all. He was perfect.
I was named after him. “Jefferson Davis McKnight — named after a popular Black preacher in the south,” my mother would explain — skipping over any other southern Jefferson Davis’s that might have been well known in history. While I’ve long assumed my name probably evolved from the president of the confederacy, I also know that it helps round out my initials — JAH. So I’m good.
But I don’t if my grandfather would have been interested in any of that. He didn’t talk much. He didn’t write much.
My wife and I have had the opportunity to live around the world. Literally. And we made sure to bring our larger family with us. When our youngest son was born in Tokyo the grandmothers were there. My mother stayed with us for six months in Tokyo. She’d never had a passport before that trip.
While my sons have amazing grandmothers, uncles and aunts, my only wish is that they had gotten to know their grandfathers. There’s something about 3 and 4 generations of conversations that build the type of self-worth that Jason Mayden often talks about.
I learned that when I moved to the Upper East Side and when I moved to Harlem. The families that I saw as successful and happy — not with respect to zeros in their bank account — were interconnected through generations. It wasn’t church or school or job that provided self-worth in the kids that walked by me. It was this connection to something bigger.
When we lived in Japan I noticed a sticker on a bus one afternoon. That was a big deal because there’s little to no graffiti anywhere. For some reason I thought to myself that it would be cool to leave stickers from our family all over the world so my boys could bump into them every now and again. So they would remember each other. Essentially I wanted them to see their impact left on the world. Something bigger than now.
That sticker idea would evolve into JEXNYC.
The odd thing is that the shoes that I’ve worked on or their mother has sold have turned into that mark. At least for now. Try going for a day in NYC or IG and not seeing a Yeezy or Lunargrand. Then you’ll see friends of the family like Chain Reactions or Monarchs.
That connection creates a self-worth, knowing that you helped build something.
But those marks, those artifacts, those relics are shallow without a narrative of why.
My favorite house in life was my grandfather’s house. My grandmother’s house was big and full of love, but it too ‘peopley’ for me. It was full of hugs and questions about your day and concern when I didn’t talk.
No one ever asked me to talk in my grandfather’s house. We’d go bowling and watch baseball on TV.
Unfortunately there’s no record of us doing nothing.
So I try to record every moment of my family doing nothing as much as possible. And I try to unearth relics and record moments from our family history so they can piece together what I may miss.
I’m happy if these stories or my tweets are useful to strangers. A friend is helping me clean them up for public consumption because there are ‘gems’ to be found.
I hope that’s true, but that’s not my real reason.
I may not be at my grandson’s high school graduation or my granddaughter’s IPO, but I want them to know that I was thinking about them well before anyone else did. I want them to be able to read about their fathers and uncles and their friends so they know that they are a part of something tangible. Within reach.
Not So Random
The biggest complaint about my social media presence is that it’s only intended for a small audience.
Because my posts are typically intended for a small audience.
The picture above is of me and Xavier playing soccer in a random parking lot in California.
I’m not sure how much he will remember this but the Cadillac to the left is what we drove up PCH every day from Kobe Jerry’s house to play soccer for an hour before opening the studio to the right. In that rundown Calabasas industrial park is where he’d sit and do homework while a small group of designers would design stuff.
Millions of people know that studio.
I remember that parking lot.
Because Ray Butts told us to take our kids to work.
The More You Know
My grandfather once told my older brother, “There’s plenty of work out there. Go look for a job.”
My brother would use “job” and “career”.
I use “career” and “ownership”.
But it’s more meaningful when you know where it started.