Jay R. Stephens

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My love for songwriting began at age 13 when I wrote by first song, but my love for music began well before that. I guess you could say it originated before I was even born as my mom tells me she sang all the time while she was pregnant with me. She has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard and I still get the chills whenever I hear her sing. Whenever we got in the car, I would rush to put on my favorite album at that time, Fred Hammond’s “Purpose By Design”,  and my mom teach me different parts, training my ear and ability to stay on key. She would sing soprano, while I would sing tenor. It all just felt natural to me. As a kid, this was what I considered fun. It was honestly what I enjoyed more than anything else. But I never entertained the idea that I could one day become an artist in my own right, because I did not believe in myself.

I remember being awaken early in the morning by my mom’s alarm in the other room, which was the sound of music. Although I couldn’t see the time, I had become pretty good at gauging the amount of time I had left to get ready by memorizing the playlist of our local radio station, which never seemed to change. Most times I had the melody of the songs playing in my dreams before the alarm went off. This was before I began to hear the melodies of my own the exact same way.

 I may have been too young to fully understand the subject matter, but whenever my favorite song came on, those three to four minutes were absolute bliss. It was an euphoria that I had never experienced before. The combination of emotion and adoration that I felt for the creativity and vulnerability from the artists that I somehow felt was being shared only with me,  made me feel special when I otherwise did not. It made me feel understood and hopeful. I would dread the end of a favorite song because that meant I had to wait at least another hour, or maybe another car ride to experience that feeling again. Although music continuously played in my head even when there was no music actually playing, I still felt the urge to hear that sound through speakers just one more time.

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When I saved enough money to purchase my first CD, it was heaven for me, and likely torture for my mom and our neighbors. I remember going into my room, closing the door, being anxious to hear the latest album from my favorite artists for just a little while. It would usually be a school night and close to bedtime, so I had to be very selective in choosing the song(s) I wanted to hear before going to bed. By this time it had become more than the connection and comfort of feeling understood. I slowly began to discover my own abilities as a singer, and I found myself generating my own ideas and thoughts for expressing how I felt as a songwriter.

I will never forget, it was one day while sitting in my math class. I completely lost track of what the teacher was saying, and I just began writing down words. They began as random sentences about how I was feeling at the moment. But then I found that those sentences and words began to rhyme. As a guide, I would think about my favorite song at the moment and write my own lyrics over that melody. It felt a bit weird at first, but then it became therapeutic. Especially since I often found myself being sad, misunderstood, and feeling not good enough. Over time, I realized that it could possibly be something more than that. For once, I felt like I had found something that I naturally excelled at; something that I could be good at. Something that was my own special thing.

Education has been a priority for my family, and has also been a priority for me. Therefore, getting my education was never a question. My family sacrificed greatly to provide me with the best possible education, and there was no way I would let them down. Witnessing my mom struggle as a single parent, going to school at night, working full time during the day, and doing whatever she could to provide, motivated me to succeed academically.  This was the very least I could do to show my gratitude for her sacrifices, and the sacrifices of my grandparents and my mom’s twin sister.

Through college and law school, I was building my future to ensure stability, but my passion for music was still there. It was packed down, deep in my heart, but it was always there. I always knew what I really wanted to do, but practicality told me that it was not realistic. Upon graduating law school, I had made up my mind that I was going to continue to do what was safe; build a stable career, and live happily ever after conforming to what everyone else wanted.

I honestly believe that your destiny and what is meant to be, finds a way to intervene before you lose your purpose. Your purpose grabs the steering wheel and guides you to where you need to be. Following the news that I did not pass the New York bar exam, I was devastated. The constant, calculated mindset of wanting to be successful, desperately seeking validation through success had caught up with me. At this moment, I had no choice but to confront who I really am, and what I have always wanted. It was then that I decided to move back to Georgia to find myself,  and for once in my life, taking taking the chance to follow my purpose.

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When I moved back to Georgia, I was forced to find myself. I had plenty of time to reflect, and  to ask myself what I really wanted. In the midst of waiting my bar exam results, I was able to find my true love again, which was music. Through the trials and tribulations of the process, I became inspired, and wrote my first full song in years: “Nobody Knows.” Unlike the never-ending struggle of passing the bar exam, I was able to write my first song in years in 30 minutes. It told the story of the depression I had struggled with for years, and the fear of uncertainty and self-doubt.  Writing this song allowed to embrace my purpose in life, which at this time felt clearer than ever, and I was determined to fulfill it.

Passing both the New York and Georgia bar exams were goals that I am so proud to have achieved. But in many ways it felt like an emancipation. It felt like I was witnessing the beginning of what had been waiting for me all these years, since that first time I made those first few sentences rhyme in math class.

 

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