By Joyell Nevins
Jamie’s Joy honors boy’s memory with good deeds
Love, joy, peace, connection.
These are all qualities that the late Jamie Morgan Mychael Bratton-McNeeley embodied. His life will be honored, and the nonprofit organization Urban Street Angels benefitted, at a “Jamie’s Joy Toast to 21” event from 6-10 p.m. on Saturday, June 24 at The Irenic in North Park. The Irenic complex has become a home base for the Angels.
“Jamie was full of love and joy and spontaneity,” said his mom, Elene Bratton. “He was all boy, but a sweet, loving, spiritually deep person. His beauty on the outside was matched by his beauty on the inside.”
Elene shared how Jamie was an abstract thinker by 4 years old. One evening, they were praying prayers for peace together, and he told her “Mom, they can’t hear their hearts, because they’re too much in war.”
He was also a vegetarian like his mom, and used to tell people when they asked him how come, “Why, I don’t eat my friends!”
But on April 24, 2002, Jamie and Elene’s sister Angela Bratton were in a horrific car crash. The accident killed Jamie and put Angela on life support, leaving her with a permanent traumatic brain injury. One month later, May 24, marked what would have been Jamie’s sixth birthday.
Elene and the family were still in shock, but she wanted to do something to commemorate him. So they had a candle-lighting and storytelling evening. Everyone attending wrote a word on a candle that described Jamie, and the relationship they had with him. The words ranged from rascally and scamp to angel and magical. All expressed the impact Jamie had made in the world around him.
It was such a special time that Elene, with the support of her family and friends, has continued to host a birthday celebration every year since then. The first few years, the birthdays were private occasions. A memorial fund through the San Diego Foundation called “Jamie’s Joy” had been set up in 2003, and the birthday month or celebration often correlated with a letter-writing campaign or donation to a local charity through the fund.
But in 2008, on what would have been Jamie’s 13th birthday, the focus shifted. Just as 13 can be a changing point in a young man’s life, so Elene felt that the celebrations should have a change as well — an expansive change.
The event became a public celebration, and broadened its fundraising and awareness scope. Silent auctions, concerts, lots of food and kids’ activities — it has just kept growing. The celebrations even got the attention of public officials such as mayors, district attorneys and Assembly members. Past guests of Jamie’s Joy events have included Bob Filner when he was mayor, Toni G. Atkins, Todd Gloria and Mara Elliott.
Charities benefitted have always reflected Jamie’s character and what would have been his current age group. The Tariq Khamisa Foundation, one of the recipients, educates and inspires middle-school students in principles of compassion, forgiveness and peacemaking in support of safer schools and communities.
It was established by Azim Khamisa and Ples Felix, after Felix’s 14-year-old grandson Tony Hicks killed Tariq Khamisa, Azim’s 20-year-old son. Hicks was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, becoming the first child in California under the age of 16 to be convicted as an adult. Azim reached out in forgiveness to Felix to begin the process of healing, and together they established the foundation to stop the cycle of violence and hatred.
Elene has gotten to know Azim very well, and understands the difficulty, but importance, of forgiveness through her own situation. She says emphatically that she loves Angela, and although forgiveness required pushing through some dark thoughts, she refused to lose a second family member to the tragedy of that night.
Other charities benefitted have included transcenDANCE Youth Art Project, which uses the power of dance for positive change in underserved communities, and Reality Changers, which brings in mentors in early high school to promote first-generation college students.
Helping the Angels
Last year and again this year, Urban Street Angels is the recipient of the Jamie’s Joy celebrations. The organization operates an emergency overnight shelter on Tuesdays in North Park, a transitional housing and employment program, and outpatient therapy. All of their programs specifically work with “transitional age youth,” typically between the ages of 17 and 25.
“We are in the business of providing unconditional love, which is something that some of these kids have never experienced. That’s our business,” Assistant Director Jerry Troyer told San Diego Uptown News earlier this year. “We believe that if we get homeless youth off the streets before they reach the age of 25, we can break the cycle and help reduce the number of chronically homeless people.”
This year, the celebration will also include a concert by Shea Freedom. The activist and folk-hop musician Freedom has lived through such trials as drug-addicted parents, foster care, homelessness, thievery and a horrific motorcycle accident. Yet he refuses to descend into bitterness and hopelessness.
Freedom’s mission and mindset is to build a place for foster youth and trans people like him to know that they are not alone. He calls his movement Foster Freedom as a “living musical prayer for future generations.”
Each of these years, Elene has chosen the musicians and charity carefully, but she doesn’t feel she’s choosing alone.
“This whole thing is spiritual in a way — it just comes to me,” she said. “My son guides me — we’re partners.”
She also feels that this year will be the last Jamie’s Joy event in this fashion — a finale of sorts. Jamie would be 21 this year, and it’s time for their relationship again to change.
“He’s older now; I don’t have to take care of him anymore,” Elene said.
Even his room, which is still his room in her house in Azalea Park, has been redecorated recently. Elene didn’t feel a growing man would probably want Winnie the Pooh decorations anymore, she explained tongue-in-cheek.
But there will always be ways to honor Jamie. Community service, speaking and traveling are some of the ways Elene and company will be keeping his spirit alive.
“You don’t want your child to be forgotten,” Elene said. “I’m finding my son’s legacy.”
For more information about Urban Street Angels, visit urbanstreetangels.org and 8west.org. To read the Uptown News article titled “Saving lives: Urban Street Angeles offer lifelines to homeless you,” visit bit.ly/2hMC93N.
Sara is the editor of San Diego Uptown News.