Local writer, speaker lives the creative life
When Yemaja Jubilee was 16 years old, she discovered a gift: writing poetry.
“I wrote my first poem [at that age], called ‘Where Have All the Good Folk Gone? They Sure Ain’t Gone to No Heavenly Home,” said Jubilee, now a poet, playwright, inspirational speaker and life coach who lives in Richmond. “I used poetry as a means of speaking what was not allowed for me to say growing up.”
Jubilee, 75, grew up in Charlotte County in the Jim Crow era, and she reflects on her childhood experiences in poetry and nonfiction articles. For the past year, she has shared those reflections in a column for Charlotte Gazette titled “Growing up Black in Charlotte County.”
In one recent column, Jubilee, born Ann Delores Brown, described seeing the Ku Klux Klan ride by her house when she was 10 years old. In another, she profiled her 96-year-old father, who joined the Civilian Conservative Corps in 1941 and helped build Twin Lakes State Park in Prince Edward County.
“I use those stories to educate people and to be honest with others about what I learned from them and how they propelled me into being the woman I am today,” she said.
After graduating from high school in Charlotte County, Jubilee hoped to be the first Black woman to attend Longwood University (then Longwood College) in Farmville.
Jubilee was denied attendance at all-white Longwood and instead graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she earned a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, with a focus on alcohol and drug counseling.
She pursued a career to improve the lives of at-risk and vulnerable populations. In her various jobs in Virginia, Tennessee and New York, Jubilee worked in alcohol and drug prevention, mentored at-risk teens, planned activities for older adults, and helped developmentally disabled people navigate daily living tasks.
“I believe you have to give back,” Jubilee said.
Passionate about health and wellness, Jubilee also worked as a personal trainer, Zumba instructor and NIA instructor. (NIA is a movement practice that draws from martial arts, dance arts and healing arts.)
She has also taught community members how to plant gardens, and has worked as a substitute teacher in Henrico County.
“I never had to look too hard for a job because my skill set is so diverse,” Jubilee said.
A new chapter
When Jubilee moved back to Virginia and retired in 2010, she had time to revive her love of poetry. She showed her poems to her partner, L. Roi Boyd III, professor of speech and theater at Virginia State University. “He told me we should turn them into a play,” Jubilee said.
Several years later, she and Boyd launched Cultural Libations, a multidisciplinary fine arts organization that provides a venue for artists to express the human condition through a variety of media.
Together, they developed the play “Couldn’t Keep It to Myself.” The title reflects Jubilee’s compelling desire to use writing to explore “whatever’s going on in society, whatever’s going on inside of me, whatever’s going on in my family, my relationships, my jobs,” she said.
The play was performed in Richmond, Charlottesville and Washington, D.C., and was picked up by the Acts of Faith Theatre Festival in 2015.
Audience members requested a book of Jubilee’s poems, so, in 2017, she self-published the poetry collection, Couldn’t Keep It to Myself.
Jubilee and Boyd have since written, directed and produced many productions. Among them are “Juba, Juba, Jubilee,” a short play that celebrates Juneteenth, the holiday marking the day in 1865 that Black Texans learned the Civil War had ended and they were free, and “Blues Gal,” which looks at the history of female blues singers.
Boyd and Jubilee also co-produced “Black Wall Street: The Money, the Music, & the People,” a film written by Rebekah L. Pierce about Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood, known in the early 1900s as one of the most prominent Black communities in the country.
Next August, Jubilee will stage the Richmond performance of “He’s a Funny Cat, Ms. High: My 32 Years Singing with James Brown.” The show is based on the book by that name written by her friend and colleague Martha High, a Virginia native who performed as a vocalist with Brown.
“It took two and a half years to write the play and original music,” Jubilee said. “That’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done.”
In recent years, Jubilee’s creativity has intertwined with her desire to help people lead better lives in her work as an inspirational speaker, life coach and radio and TV personality.
She has given talks about the 1963 March on Washington, on gaining freedom from negativity, and on forest bathing — a practice she said helps her find peace and tap into her intuition.
Jubilee hosts “Love, Light and Positivity” on Finding My Way Radio Network, and she hosted Celebrity Buzz on Studio W, sharing “stories of people doing positive things, influencing and inspiring people,” Jubilee said.
“I can’t sit and be still just because I’m retired,” Jubilee said. “I have all this creativity.”
Where does Jubilee’s creativity come from? She credits her mother’s influence and her spirituality. “I have ideas…I call them ‘downloads from the big G,’” she said. “I’m proud that God has given me all these talents.”
Jubilee’s creativity also comes from her openness to new adventures and opportunities.
“There really is no fear. I just keep on going,” she said. “I’m going to learn something. I’m going to fly.”