Daniel Alexander Jones: What to do when everything feels broken

Recorded atJune 25, 2020
Duration (min:sec)06:24
Video TypeTED Stage Talk
Words per minute154.37 slow
Readability (FK)78.22 very easy
SpeakerDaniel Alexander Jones

Official TED page for this talk


"Some call me a soul sonic superstar," says Jomama Jones, the alter ego of TED Fellow and theater artist Daniel Alexander Jones. In this stunning talk and performance, Jomama Jones invites us to consider how coming undone can be the first step toward transformation. It's a powerful story of community, growth and renewal -- and how breaking apart can mean breaking open.

Text Highlight (experimental)
100:12 "I've got people in me."
200:15 So sang the late Abbey Lincoln.
300:18 I take that lyric as mantra.
400:21 "I've got people in me."
500:24 Jomama Jones is the person in me I turn to as a guide.
600:29 She's my alter ego.
700:31 I've been embodying her in performance since 1995, and she comes around when she has some insight to offer folks.
800:41 At this time of radical change, I'm glad to be the vessel for her message to you.
900:53 Jomama Jones: What if I told you it's going to be alright ... but what if I told you not yet?
1001:00 What if I told you there are trials ahead beyond your deepest fears?
1101:06 What if I told you will you fall ... down, down, down?
1201:12 But what if I told you you will surprise yourself?
1301:17 What if I told you will be brave enough?
1401:23 What if I told you we won't all make it through?
1501:28 But what if I told you that is as it must be?
1601:34 What if I told you I've seen the future?
1701:41 Do you like my hands?
1801:43 They're expressive, yeah?
1901:45 Now look at your hands -- now go on.
2001:48 There's so much history recorded through their touches and marks of the future sketched on their palms.
2101:55 Sometimes hands grip tight, sometimes hands let go.
2202:01 What if I told you it's all going to come undone?
2302:07 Hm. Ladies and gentlemen and otherwise described, I am Jomama Jones.
2402:15 Some call me a soul sonic superstar, and I agree, though even in my past that was from the future.
2502:24 Let me take you back to girlhood.
2602:26 Picture this: it was Planting Day, which was a holiday I invented for the Black youth community group I founded.
2702:34 I dashed home to put on my gardening ensemble when I caught my uncle Freeman red-handed.
2802:41 He was standing over my piggy bank with his hammer raised high.
2902:46 He was fixing to steal my coins.
3002:49 And you see, my uncle Freeman was a handyman.
3102:53 He could fix anything -- a broken chair, a shattered pot -- even bring grandmother's plants back to life.
3203:00 He had that magic touch with broken things ... and broken people.
3303:06 He would take me with him on his jobs and say, "C'mon Jo, let's go do something to make this world a better place."
3403:12 His hands were wide and calloused, and they always reminded me of displaced tree roots.
3503:20 As we worked he would talk with folks about the change he was sure was just around the corner.
3603:28 I saw him mend flagging hopes and leave folks with their heads held high.
3703:35 His hands stirred the sunshine.
3803:38 And now he was about to break my piggy bank.
3903:43 I said "Step back, man, and show me your hands."
4003:46 You know the irony was he used to give me all the old coins he'd find under floorboards while working.
4103:54 And I put them in the piggy bank along with the money I earned through my childhood side hustles.
4204:01 But by the spring of 1970, Uncle Freeman had lost his touch ... along with most of his jobs.
4304:10 He saw a heavy future of civil wrongs and Black power outages in his palms.
4404:19 The last straw had come the previous winter when they had gunned down Fred Hampton.
4504:27 Overwhelmed with fear and rage and grief, Uncle Freeman tried to game his future.
4604:37 He gripped too tight, and he started playing the numbers.
4704:41 "Well, one of these numbers is gonna hit, little girl.
4804:43 You got a quarter for your uncle Free -- " Now some of y'all have that relative.
4904:48 But I knew right then and there I had to do something.
5004:52 I jumped up and I grabbed that hammer
5104:53 and I brought it crashing down on that pig.
5204:56 And Uncle Freeman started to weep as I gathered up all the coins.
5305:00 "We're not buying no lottery ticket, Uncle Freeman.
5405:02 C'mon."
5505:05 We spent every last cent at the seed store.
5605:11 You know, the kids in my gardening group?
5705:13 They didn't bat an eye when I had Uncle Freeman get down and put his hands in the earth again and start breaking up that soil for our seeds.
5805:21 And my little friend Taesha even came over and started slapping him on the back saying, "Cry it out, Uncle Freeman.
5905:27 Cry it out."
6005:30 "I can't fix this," he sobbed.
6105:34 It's an ancient-future truism, that.
6205:39 He wasn't the first to feel that way, and he wouldn't be the last.
6305:43 Right now, it feels as though everything is breaking beyond repair.
6405:50 It is.
6505:52 But that breaking apart can be a breaking open, no matter how violent and uncertain and fearsome it seems.
6606:03 The thing is ... we can't do it alone.
6706:08 Uncle Freeman cried so much that day as we planted our seeds, he was our very own irrigation system.
6806:20 "I don't know who I am anymore, little girl," he said to me at sundown.
6906:26 "Good, Uncle Freeman.
7006:28 Good.
7106:30 You're new again, and that's just how we need you."