Hope Floats Out Now!!!
Aaron Evans & Erik Ibom, Valley Dale Ballroom, Columbus Ohio, ca. 1988
If the look between these two young friends doesn’t convince your heart that Hope Floats, then I don’t know what will.
I’m just lucky enough to have lived a life, where one of those young friends,
just happens to be me.
The Hope Floats Cover: A Retrospective
Eric was one of my first best friends in Kindergarden. We meet while attending Douglas Alternative Arts, a progressive minded elementary school nestled in the heart of downtown Columbus. Though part of the public school system, Douglas had a lottery for admittance to insure that children from all backgrounds and areas of the city could participate in this amazing and experimental learning environment. In fact, making sure that the school had a healthy balance of diversity was part of the mission (Which in hindsight was decades ahead of it’s time.) thus my early years I was surrounded by a cornucopia of culture. The concept of the school was No Walls. Each grade didn’t have class rooms but a giant learning spaces, each space connecting to a roofless library, all of which overlooked the expansive auditorium/gym. Questioning limitations wasn't encouraged at Douglas, it was the standard. They didn’t teach tolerance of each other's differences, they showed how to celebrate them. They didn’t lead us to a path, but told us how to go forge our own. I’m confident that had I not been accepted to Douglas, I wouldn’t be the man I am today. It showed me what our world could be, when our actions are lead with love, and our hearts are full of wonder. Which brings us back to my friendship with Eric and the Hope Floats cover.
First let’s talk about the look exchanged between me and Erik. I can’t speak for him, but as for myself, I know my face sums up the entirety of my friendship with him. Pure and absolute admiration. Erik was almost like a superhero in my eyes. See, my father worked as a recreation center leader and thus from the time of my birth, athletics had been a cornerstone of my existence. Sports was everything. I was a standout athlete, but Erik, Erik was Michael Jordan, Ken Griffey Jr. and Bo Jackson wrapped into a dynamo 10 year old package. Erik didn’t win, he won effortlessly. He was smooth, calm and casual on the field, always 2 steps ahead of the pack. No one ever told me what cool was, but I knew the second I saw him, Erik was it.
Further, Erik was smart. Really smart. His father was a professor at Ohio State University who had immigrated to America in his younger years from Africa. He was bow legged with skin as dark as a moonless night and a smile as bright as the sun itself. His name was Godfrey and he carried himself like a humble yet confident King. He taught mathematics and being that I excelled from a young age in that field I looked at him as a next worldly sage who had cracked every code my budding mind hoped to. And strangely, I’ll never forget his billfold. He would carry nothing but brand new, pristinely crisp currency. As if it had been certified and sent to him by some high government official directly. It only added to his allure and legend within my mind. He was my first impression of an African, and in my eyes, he put the God in Godfrey. I didn’t fear him, I respected him, which is something to this day is not something easily earned from me. Godfrey may have been the first to do so.
Eric’s mother was also in education so the standard was set very high within Erik's household, as it was in mine. Yet I recall Erik’s mother as somewhat the complete opposite of Godfrey. She was short, cozy, with a motherly warmth I remember as welcoming and kind. She cared deeply about education but was the more playful of the two, almost bubbly at times. And she was white. Pale white, with an impressive collection of frolicking freckles which added to her bouncing personality. She and Godfrey looked like Salt and Pepper shakers next to each other. I remember finding the contrast strikingly beautiful. I also believe this was another strong molding moment in my young life as I never had to be taught it was OK for bi-racial families to exist, because it was always completely normal part of my existence to begin with. Further, Erik and his sister Valerie (Who was an Olympic hopeful in gymnastics untill a tragic injury.) both excelled at everything from sports to scholastics to scouting, and thus by my simple childlike logic, if anything, being mixed was an advantage. I recall thinking Erik had extra magic because he could call upon two separate sets of ancestors. (I was also blessed to be introduced to Native American Ideologies at a very young age and thus often pondered the deeper meanings behind ancestors, spirits and gods beyond what I was taught in my weekly Sunday school class.)
Me and Erik’s evenings and summers were spent much like most middle class midwestern boys. Long dusty hours on the local diamonds shagging balls. In our younger years we were teammates, but Erik quickly graduated to traveling leagues and All Star Teams. Evenings where often filled with BBQ’s at Sequoia Swim Club, rinsing away the day’s mischief beneath meandering majestic sunsets. I’m not sure what ever happened to pools here in America, but they served as nothing less than the neighborhood water-cooler. We had epic adventures & outings with the Cub Scouts. I was the 3 time Pine Wood Derby Champ. That and the soccer field were the only two places I knew I could best Erik competitively, and it felt good to know I could at least keep the neighborhood champ on his toes from time to time. Adam Ross, a loud lionhearted bruiser of a man child completed our Trio. I remember calling us "The 3 Musketeers." Sleepovers, field trips to COSI (Central Ohio Science Institute), The Columbus Zoo, Museums and Saturday mornings spent playing Putt Putt, where you could get unlimited golf, 20 video game tickets, and a Hot Dog with Chips, all for $5. It was a parent’s dream come true, you simply couldn’t buy a better babysitter. Looking back, growing up in Forest Park in the 80’s was a slivered view of the utopia America always dreamed it could be. People weren’t rich, but they weren’t poor. Racial tension was at perhaps an all time low. The internet had yet to be invented so people still relied on community for recommendations, recourses and recreational outlets. I stumble to accurately describe the era of the middle class as we as a society have digressed to an era of haves and have nots. But for that brief moment in time, in what I’ve come to see as a very special place, we grew up a very special way.
Picking an album cover is never easy. In fact I changed my mind at least a half dozen times during the process until my mother was going through a box of old photos and found this picture. I had completely forgotten about this moment in life, but in an instant I understood how and why I could grow up to believe so adamantly in Hope. Amongst all the negativity, isolation, separation and darkness currently permeating our world, that just wasn’t the world I was raised in.
This photo of Erik & I was taken at Valley Dale Ballroom, an esteemed venue which has played host to musicians such as Cab Calloway, Frank Sinatra, Count Basie and countless others. Opportunities like these were another privilege we reaped from attending Douglas, as every year the school would throw a huge production and give us a chance to touch the same stage so many legends had graced. At the time we didn’t understand who the fancy people framed on the wall where, but we all knew with certainty that this was our moment to shine on the grandest of scales. We learned to dream at Douglas, we learned to make those dreams vast and expansive, daring and bold, and some of us, never let those dreams go. But one of the things I truly love about this picture, is that even amongst such grand dreams , the picture is filled with absolute humility. Erik’s missing tooth and mis-tucked shirt. My dingy old shoes, clip on paper bow tie and "dress shirt" with the cut off sleeveless tank top vibe. (Like real talk, WTF happened to my sleeves?!?! LOL)
I could go on and on about me and Erik’s friendship, metaphors and analogies which break misconceptions seen upon the surface. About how the exchange between these two young men speaks volumes to me about the power of unity, togetherness and mutual respect. They say children aren’t born with hate, they learn it. But at my school, in my neighborhood, hate was taboo and unacceptable. As crazy an idea as it may sound, it was almost like people wanted to get along, get to know their neighbor, figure out if we could make this grand melting pot of America work. Fuck, why not give Hope a shot?
The last few years have been anything but easy. For any of us. It seems as if America has taken a collective ass beating. Our morale is tired and our tempers short. But this album, these words, this image, this untraditional, out of the box, anything but normal life that I’ve lived, is what’s helped me keep hope alive through the most abysmal moments of my life. And now I’m aiming to share this light, this hope, with as many others as I can. For above all, I chose this picture, because on some level it represents all of us. It puts the WE in We Are Rising. It puts the WE in We Are One. And I can tell you with certainty, that WE will come together to find practical solutions to our world’s problems, or WE will fall to the same fate as every other faded and forgotten empire.
My agenda is love and reason.
My aim is to help moderate the decisions which will change our world.
My opening platform is hope.
The hope seen between these two children’s eyes.
The hope you feel in your heart right now.
The hope that can light our way through the darkness.