Friday, February 17, 2017

Sharon Jones on Life and Friendship

Sharon Jones always wanted to write her story for everyone to read, but she didn't know where to start. A friend suggested that she should start at the beginning, and so that is what she did. As she was writing, Sharon remembered more and more of her colorful past thanks to the many questions posed by curious friends.

Sharon kick-started her memoir in Kim Thelen's creative writing class at The Arc San Francisco. She has more free hours than usual before baseball season starts up again and she returns to her job with the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park.

 A recent assignment in the course was to choose a topic to research and write about. Sharon chose Martin Luther King Jr. in honor of Black History Month. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech has inspired Sharon and her own dream of becoming a professional writer someday.

Sharon is very proud of her memoir and is excited for people to read her story. Her advice for others is, "If you want to, you should write your own story." This is Sharon's story, in her own words.

    I was born in Ferriday, Louisiana and moved to San Francisco when I was three because the doctors told my mother the doctors were better here. I have six brothers and five sisters and I am the baby of the sisters but my younger brother is the youngest of us all. I wanted to be the baby baby but I am not. My parents are good, they supported me. They gave me the master bedroom, a private phone line in my room, and they gave me what I wanted, stuff I needed. They were good. They were really nice, very gentle. I have three favorite siblings because they help me out with money and presents. One of them lives in Virginia and when she visits she takes me out to dinner and spends time with me. The other siblings are alright. I don't see them too much and don't always get along but I do my best.
    My top three favorite childhood memories are my red bicycle that I used to ride up and down the hallway. Before I had an electric chair, I used to have a wheelchair and I had to get down the stairs. I had my nephew on my lap and my four year old brother was playing with my chair. He didn't know better. He started playing and pushing and I went tumbling down the stairs, nephew and all. There were 50 stairs all the way down to the bottom. My nephew lost a tooth, and my mother gave my brother a spanking. I also loved having everybody live together. The girls would all sleep in the downstairs room and the boys slept upstairs. The bathroom was too much. One bathroom for eleven kids was always crazy. It was always busy, hectic, and sometimes we fought, but not all the time.
    I liked my elementary school. We could go swimming, and the pool was warm. I got along with the students, and I never got bullied. What I didn't like in elementary school was that every Friday we had clam chowder. I hate clam chowder. I used to gag, and the woman in the cafeteria told me to have my mom write a note, then I could bring my own lunch on Fridays. So I did, and no one ever made me eat clam chowder again. I guess in elementary school, my biggest problem was clam chowder. When I got to middle school, the real problems started.
    When I was in middle school, some of the students didn't like me and some did. I used to get bullied a lot. At first it didn't happen very often, but it slowly started happening more. The worst of it was just before graduation in eighth grade. I would get bullied twice a day, every day. I remember one time I got bullied, a boy pulled my hair, pulled me out of my wheelchair and started kicking me. My brother saw what was going on and got in the bully's face. He really yelled at him. My brother could be very intimidating. He was like my bodyguard and defended me whenever he could, but when he stayed at home, I would still get picked on. I had some friends at school, but my brother had a lot more than I did. If his friends saw me getting bullied, they would try to stop it and go tell him.
    After middle school, I got fed up with the bullying, and I couldn't take it anymore. When somebody pulled my hair, it bothered me more than anything. In high school, I finally started standing up for myself. When they used to pull my hair, I would get mad, and they could see in my face how mad I got, but they would keep on doing it until I got so frustrated that I would turn on them. That's how I started standing up for myself. I got so angry I didn't have a choice anymore. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I probably cursed at them, and if they were standing behind me, I would back up into them and try to run them over with my wheelchair. I didn't know if I hurt anyone with my wheelchair, but if I did, I didn't care.
    I loved high school. I was in choir, the glee club, and on the high school newspaper team. I really enjoyed participating in extracurricular activities with my classmates. Senior prom was a lot of fun. I had no one to go with so one of my brothers asked me and we went together. It was fun. We danced and mingled, and afterwards we went out to eat. I got to join a lot of activities. I even joined the the other seniors in cutting come classes during graduation week. Some of the students left the school to get food, but some of us just stayed at school and hung out in the hallway. We were too scared to leave the campus, but we had a good time anyway.
    When I graduated from high school, all the seniors and the audience gave me a standing ovation. That made me feel good inside. After that some of the seniors came over to my house, and we had a party, There were also a lot of other friends and my extended family at the party. We partied till three o-clock in the morning!
    After high school I didn't do anything but watch tv, eat, sleep, and do it all over again the next day. During that time I worked some odd jobs, but nothing much. That was my life until I got my first job at the Cerebral Palsy Center in Oakland, where I met Bob Fitch. I was 25. It was while I was working there that the big earthquake happened on October 17, 1989. I had just left the office and was the BART station when the floor, and my wheelchair, started shaking. Instead of processing my ticket and getting on BART, I had to turn around and go back to the Cerebral Palsy Center. Luckily, the phones were working and I was able to call my mom. Someone in the office suggested I could take the ferry home to San Francisco. So my mom called my uncle to pick me up at the ferry building. When I got home it was late. My uncle dropped me off. The power was out, so we had no lights, no TV, no way to cook. We sat around in the dark, my mom, my sister, my nephew, and I, talking about the day and the earthquake. I was hungry but we didn't have any food that didn't need cooking. Nobody knew the earthquake was going to happen, and everybody was pretty scared. I was a little scared but not that much. I just didn't really understand what happened. It was a good day till the earthquake happened, then it just got weird.
    Later I got a job at the AMC 1000 Van Ness movie theater, but I got laid off after four or five years. I then worked at the Blockbuster on Webster for ten years. I would put back the movies and place new movies in their cases. I liked working there. After I was laid off, I started to work at Mission High School as a mentor. I would also sometimes read to them from the computer and ask them questions. They knew I would be good at this job because the students also had a disability and they could relate to me. Because of a lack of funding, I eventually went to work at the AT&T Ball park in San Francisco. I still work there today!
    In June 2004, I started coming to the Arc San Francisco. My social worker had referred me there. When I first started coming here, I was quiet...If I said now that I am quiet, there would be a loud chorus of, "No you're not!" from my friends here at the Arc. But when I was new here, I didn't know anybody. I was afraid to go talk to people I didn't know. However, I'm a people person. After the first week or so, I wasn't scared anymore, and I'd gotten used to coming to the Arc. Sometimes, I would say hi to a stranger first, but sometimes they would come talk to me first. And now, I'm the queen of the roost. Look at me now, I've got more friends that call me Auntie, Mama, Sister, that I never had before. Now, everybody knows me. Even around town. Whenever I go out especially downtown, I see people everywhere that I know and that know me. People are always greeting me and asking me where I'm going or what I've been up to. It feels good to know so many people care. It took almost a decade, but now I have several leadership roles here at the Arc. I'm on the Board of Directors. I'm also on the Friends Like Me Committee. I've also participated in the Client Advisory Committee.
    Friends Like Me is an evening program for adults with IDD (IDD stands for intellectual and developmental disabilities), three times a week, at the Arc of San Francisco. We get together and play video games, board games, ping-pong, and pool. We talk and interact with each other and have a lot of fun. Also, we watch a movie once a week. After the movie, we have a discussion group about it--whether or not we liked it and why or why not. It's fun! Being on the Friends Like Me Committee, I get to talk about how I love the 3 nights I come here, and also come up with new activities and field trips to go on. They really want feedback from me and other clients because they want to know how it's going and whether or not the program is successful. Success means happy clients, and vice versa.
    I started on the Board in summer 2013. I think I was asked to be on the Board of Directors at the Arc because I am outspoken, and they look at me as an advocate. They want feedbag on the Arc program and how it's doing. Sometimes being on the Board of Directors can be boring, but sometimes it can be interesting, and overall it is very important to participate. Without the Board, the Arc simply wouldn't be bale to function, and without the Arc, a lot of people's lives would be miserable. There would be nothing for them to do.
    Another way that I advocate for myself and other Arc clients is by participating in the Client Adviser Committee. The CAC is exactly what it sounds like. it's a committee of Arc clients who advise the Arc according to their concerns, in order to make it work better for all clients. I stoppled participating in the CAC for a while but was asked to return. They think I'm a good candidate because I'm already on the Board of Directors and can act as a liaison between the two. But really, I think they just missed me! Like the Board, it can be a little boring sometimes, but I know it's important, so I do it anyway. Without the CAC, the Arc wouldn't know what to do to improve their program. It would stay the same and not grow with the clients.
    My life now sure is a lot busier than it was back then, right after high school. Back then, I didn't do anything but go home, sit, eat, and sleep everyday. My life was boring because I didn't have anything to do. It did not feel good. Staying at home everyday, doing the same thing, I didn't know that there was anything else I could do. I felt like that was the way my life would be forever. I did not know that I had a choice. It was my social worker who taught me that I did. He told me about the Arc because he had other clients who already attended Arc program. That's when I first came to the Arc.
    I have two ex-boyfriends. One is Devon. We first met at my best friend Georgiann's house. Then, that same day, we went to the Pier for our first date. Georgiann was there with her boyfriend, too. She's the one who introduced Devon and I. I was thirty, he was twenty-six. We were together for eight years. In fact, that means that in California we were common-law married. For the first few moths we were dating, Devon would stay over at my place every other night. Then he started bringing clothes over, and I said-well, you might as well move in! So we lived together for 7 or 8 years. Then we kept on bickering. He was addicted to playing his Atari video games, but I only have one television so I couldn't watch if he was playing. But then he got me a joystick controller so I could play Atari with him. He never should have done that, because then I started beating him at his video games. We still bickered over stupid stuff, like what we're going to watch on television. I wanted to watch Lifetime for women, and he wanted to play his video games. On a hot day in 2002, around eight o'clock in the evening, we were arguing again. Then he called my mother on himself, and told her he'd gotten too angry. So my mother told my six brothers plus my nephew. They all came over to my house together and straightened him out. My youngest brother told him to pack his stuff and get out of his sister's house. They all stayed with me until he left with all of his stuff.
    The other was named Sonny. He works at the ball park. Never date a guy who works with you. It never works! When I first saw him, he was sacred to come to me so I went to him. I went over to him but he was too shy to say hi. I went back to work and then a few minutes later, he came over to me and just started talking. We exchanged numbers and one weekend, my sister had a birthday party. It was perfect timing. I invited him and we had fun. He was a vegetarian but he cooks very well. We used to watch movies and go to baseball games. Not the Giants, the A's because we got free tickets from Catch! My favorite memory with him was Valentine's Day. He brought me flowers, a teddy bear, and candy. He was sweet, and I was happy after that. But eventually he turned out to be not so great. He started to like someone else... it happens. We broke up but we are still friends and I still see him around the ball park.
    I am happily single now. I don't need no man, especially when I have such good gal friends!
    Some of my best friends here at the Arc are Gladys and Vernea. I met Vernea in support group. When our parents passed away, we had a support group to talk about our mothers, the past. Ever since, we have been friends forever! We hang out at Friends Like Me, and are both in the drama class. We are almost always together. If there is a class excursion but I cannot go, Vernea would stay here with me. When we hang out, we go to the mall and window shop. We don't actually shop at the mall because it is so expensive. I would look at a jacket and see the price and think "I'll just put that back. It isn't that cute." If we want to actually shop, when we have money, we would go to target or something. We also like to go to the movies. We will watch comedies and romantic ones, and very rarely we'll watch a scary movie. The last one we saw was How to Be Single. It was very funny. But before that we watched Straight Out of Compton and that was completely different. It was very powerful. My favorite memory with Vernea is when she went to New York for a vacation and brought me back a souvenir bottle opener with my name on it. I wish I could have gone with her. It would be easier if I could walk, but I would need to find someone to go with me.
    I can't actually remember how I met Gladys. But we do basically the same things as I do with Vernea. The three of us are the three amigos, and we are always together. Gladys' mom is very nice, though. She has brought me bags and a scarf both as birthday presents and just because she felt like it. My favorite memory with Gladys is when a staff member is leaving and she is upset about it. I'd tell her, "Don't you start crying! Don't do it, or else you'll make me start crying!" It doesn't always work. Sometimes we just end up crying there together.
    Still, the best times are when we are all together. We were just at the Friends of Friends event. We put on a performance together. We danced to the song Puttin' On the Ritz and I received roses from Hermann. It was a fundraising event and that's why we do it every year. It helps raise money so the Arc can stay open and keep running the Friends Like Me program. That was a lot of fun. I really, really enjoyed it. The Three Amigos enjoyed it.
    The Best Buddies Agency partners people with disabilities with a buddy who doesn't have one. They would go out together to do things like going to the movies, eating lunch, shopping or going to the beach and other things. They would talk on the phone and go to their workplace to explore. I recently went to a game day sponsored by them. They has a little bit of everything there: basketball,baseball, soccer, volleyball, frisbee and even yoga. I was the goalie for the soccer game and nothing got by me. I am in this program and they put me in the University of San Francisco. I go there for activities like basketball games and Prom. I am going to go with my Best Buddy, Leah I love getting to go different places. I am an outdoor person and I don't like to stay inside for too long.
    I've got two cool buddies in this program. I met Leah last year, and she's pretty awesome. She sent me a video because when we were supposed to meet she couldn't make it. She sent me a message instead and I thought, "okay, she's pretty cool." We talk on the phone but this week she went back home for spring break. She's still a student at USF. The other buddy, Kelly, I met two years ago. She came to hear my speech and we hit it off. "Yeah, I like yooou!" We kept laughing. During the speech, I sang a part of the song "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow." She names her team "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow" every year because that song was her sister Annie's favorite. She has since passed. Because of this connection, I am on her team every year. She called me two years ago and asked to be my Best buddy, so now I have two Best Buddies. I am stealing all the Best Buddies! I call Kelly a trouble maker. She is my buddy and we get in trouble right good. She went to Hawaii to celebrate getting a new position for her job, and she brought me back a key chain, a lei, and a flower for my hair.
    I have been an ambassador with the program for nearly 5 years. I hate having to get up in the morning for training, They are usually at 9 on Saturdays. Who does that? There I learn how to write speeches and practice giving them to other ambassadors. My role as an ambassador is to give speeches to different agencies to talk about Best Buddies. The reason we do speeches is because April 23 is our Friendship Walk at Golden Gate Park, so we are trying to get different companies to come join us for the fundraising.
    Today, I still come to The Arc San Francisco. There always a lot of activities happening. I am here, there, and everywhere! I go to school at City College and I am taking Vocabulary, Reading and Writing, and that's about it. Those are my days. Thursdays are my favorite day because they are close to the weekend but not too close. I get to have one more day to get ready for the weekend, and Fridays are too busy.
    I plan to go to a four year college after I graduate city college. I'd like to get an English degree so that I can become a professional writer some day. I don't have planned where I want to go yet, though.
    I want to spend time traveling, everywhere, anywhere. Before I go, I want to visit my sister in Virginia. She made it so I can get into her house easily even with my chair. I would love to see Paris, London, and Rome. I love the languages and accents I would get to hear. And the scenery! It is so different from ours. I want to see hr landscapes and the architecture and the art, but I'd have to stay there for 4 weeks to do it all. That's alright with me! I would collect and send different postcards back to my friends and family in the states. "This is where I am now!" I want to share my experiences with them.
    My plans, should I every get married, start with finding me a rich guy! Maybe I'll find him in Paris, but they are more romantic than rich there. I would hold the wedding in a nice garden. It would be pretty large: I'd invite friends, family, nieces, nephews, uncles and aunts, and all the greats and great-greats. The list goes on and on. My dress would be beautiful. And expensive. I guess that's why I've been watching Say Yes to the Dress. I would love to have a very long train for the veil and my dress would be long and flowing. I would have lace and diamonds to decorate. I would want my wedding to have a lavender and gold theme. We would have five bridesmaids and groomsmen but I'd have two maids-of-honor: Vernae and Gladys. I wouldn't have it nay other way. We'd have our honeymoon in London. It hasn't happened yet but I still have time!
    I hope one day to retire and go to Jamaica. I hear they drink something good over there. I want to try margaritas and Sit or lay on the beach. I want to get suntanned on the warm sand. I also hope to have written a second book by then, but in the meantime, I am very, very happy.


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