How someone deals with tragedy can define a life.
For Jada White, writing helped her cope with losing her father at 6 years old, and her grandmother drowning in the floodwaters created by Hurricane Katrina.
Those incidents prompted her to write two poetry books: “The Flower Who Bloomed” and “I Thought I Had Room.”
Rhyming her way through adversity lifted a weight off her shoulders, and after a rough time living in Atlanta, White moved back home and faced her problems.
Her story is both sad and inspiring. She hopes to inspire readers to find their own coping mechanisms when faced with adversity.
Zenger caught up with the New Orleans native to discuss her life and poetry.
Zenger: Your father passed away when you were just six. What impact did he have on your life?
White: He didn’t have a large impact within those six years, being that I was always a momma’s girl, and my sister was a daddy’s girl. To be honest, I was afraid of him. My mother would often tell me how I didn’t even want him to pick me up, and how I would cry whenever he was around.
I remember one time I got a whooping from him. You would think I was closer to him, being that I feel heavily impacted. But the influence he had on me and my craft was not large. But I know if he was here, things would be different. I would have eventually learned to love him the way I love my mother.
Zenger: Eventually, you channeled emotions and experiences into poetry. What caused that?
White: Life in general. I know that’s a vague answer, but at some point, everything starts to build up, and it’s like, who can I run to? Who is there for me? At the end of the day, nobody is actually there for you. I got tired of telling people the little things that I had been going on, and not hearing the kind of feedback I wanted to hear. I appreciate them being there, but it just wasn’t enough for me.
At some point, I had to figure out how I was going to express these inner thoughts, so I decided to just start writing. Especially after one particular occasion, it just made me pick up my pen. That’s the first poem I wrote. It starts, “You encouraged me to pick up my pen again,” so I would just say life in general. But some occasions are more difficult and harder to withstand than others. I reached that breaking point and I decided to write.
Zenger: What does “The Flower Who Bloomed” symbolize?
White: I remember going through a bad breakup with a guy who was my best friend for years. I set myself down right after that, and I was like: “Why are all my relationships not long-term? Why am I going through these things? I started thinking: If my father was here, would I have these problems in relationships with men? That’s something I will never know the answer to. After that breakup, I came to the conclusion that I want to grow from things that are wearing me down, especially this heartbreak.
The first poem that I wrote about him encouraged me to pick up my pen again. It kind of reminded me how, although those friendships and relationships didn’t work out, it helped me find myself. I felt like that marked some kind of point of growth in my life, especially going through something, but seeing the beauty in it. That’s when I realized, although I’m broken, I’m still growing.
I will forever keep growing, so I decided to call it “The Flower Who Bloomed.” Although, I’m still blooming, there is growth to be recognized.
Zenger: Hurricane Katrina impacted everyone here in Louisiana. How did that storm directly affect you?
White: It kind of ruined my life. My grandmother drowned in Hurricane Katrina. I focus on my father’s death in my work, but my second book talks more about my grandmother. I was very negatively affected by Hurricane Katrina, and we’re still staying in the house she died in.
Zenger: You mentioned the second book, “I Thought I Had Room.” That title can have several meanings. What does it mean to you?
White: All of my work rhymes. That’s something I’m trying to work on, too. Trying to write poetry that doesn’t always rhyme. I’ll get there eventually. “The Flower Who Bloomed,” if you notice the visual of it, it’s a black lower body with a flower head. “I Thought I Had Room” — I thought I had the space to bloom when it came to that first book. A lot of the things I talked about in it did occur, but there was still a lot of growth that could be occurring right now.
I really thought I had the space and the mental capacity, everything I needed to grow, especially in the areas I was focusing on more. “I Thought I Had Room,” means to me, to be able to grow in whatever areas you were seeking, the right space, the right environment, and the right people. The visuals for it is a person. I didn’t want to put a gender on the person, because it impacts all genders.
The cover of “Room” is a person in a vase, the person is drowning, there is water in the vase, and while that person is suffering, there are still flowers blooming above. While everything around them is growing, they’re not growing because of a lack of space.
Zenger: Are you working on another poetry book? If so, will it follow the theme of the first two books?
White: I want to stay on track with the first two books. I want everything to make sense. I don’t want it to be random thoughts. I am working to make the third one very relatable to the first two. But the thing about me is, I need a change to occur right now, that way I can start working on that third book. As of now, I have nothing planned for it, as an artist, my ideas click instantly. I just need to have the story together—and all the art will flow.
Zenger: At some point, you moved to Atlanta. What was your time there like?
White: It was very hard for me. I think the hardest part about it was being by myself. Trying to do things on my own. I honestly thought I was going to fix things in New Orleans by being six hours away. I was so naive, I didn’t realize, wherever there are problems, you cannot run away from them. They will follow you. Moving to Atlanta, I thought I was going to have the room to grow, just as I talked about in, “The Flower Who Bloomed.” I thought I was running away, but in a good way.
That’s when I realized, I moved to Atlanta, but this wasn’t the room that was beneficial to me. Instead, I made things worse. I met people that did not benefit me. I went through a lot of things. One thing is almost getting killed by an ex-boyfriend. My time was really hard, but I’m glad I grew from it. I was able to make the mature decision to come back home and fix these problems before I ever try to run away again.
Zenger: The story of Alana Miller, the Southern University cheerleader who took her own life. There has been a string of student-athletes recently who took their own lives. What advice would you give to someone who feels there is no way out of a situation and has harmful thoughts?
White: I would remind them, it is hard — and it’s going to be hard. A lot of times you feel like you have nobody, but in all reality, you do. Sometimes the advice people give us is not what we want to hear. There is only so much a person can tell you and do to help when it comes to depression.
There is therapy, and therapy might cost, but it may not be beneficial to some people. There are ways to fix or repair that identity crisis. You have to be around the right people, be doing the right things, and be working toward you.
It is very sad when it reaches a point of suicide. The main thing is finding yourself. You cannot run away from your problems. You have to release them somehow with art or after-school activities.
The main thing I would tell anyone who is going through something: just not to give up. Keep waking up, because you don’t know what God has got planned for you. Keep waking up, keep being true to yourself. That way, you can be true to others. Put yourself and God first, and everything else will flow.
Edited by Fern Siegel and Matthew B. Hall