Day 98 - James (1st person I approached)
April 08, 2014 - James was sitting reading a book when I asked him if we could talk. The book was about Barack Obama. We dove right into conversation, and the stories where incredible and I could easily have spent a couple of hours talking with James. However, he was waiting for his wife, and our time was limited. And for the first time, I broke another rule. I forgot to take a picture of James. I didn’t even realize until I got home. I considered going out and meeting another stranger. I knew I could probably find a picture of James online based on his story, and decided that I would use one of his pictures. (I’ve written to him to ask if that’s ok and so far, have not gotten a reply. I’m fairly confident that James would allow me to use the picture I have. If that changes, I’ll deal with it at that time. Thanks for coasting along with me on this uncharted journey!)
James was born in New Westminster, at Royal Columbian Hospital. He is the youngest of five children, all raised by his mother, a single parent. His grandfather had come to Canada at a time when immigrants were given land, in exchange for a promise to develop said property. James’ grandfather started off with approximately 170 acres of farmland in Alberta. Originally named ‘Junkins,’ the hamlet of Wildwood was created in 1908, formed by a group of 20 African-American immigrants through a system then called ‘block settlements.’ (*Fact Check - see links below.) In 1936, James’ mother and aunt moved to Vancouver, and his aunt opened a restaurant downtown in the space today occupied by a parking lot, next door to The Penthouse nightclub on Seymour Street. The restaurant was the Dixie Chicken Inn (**Fact Check - I found one reference to this in a book of post-war Vancouver - see link below).
“I remember I used to go downtown to the restaurant after school. We lived in Newton, but because my mother worked downtown, I’d go by and my job was to direct traffic in the parking lot. I was about 12 years old at that time,” James told me.
In elementary school James got into fights almost daily.
“Elementary school was tough. I faced racism every single day and was always getting into fights because of the words used against me. Back then I was getting the strap in school from teachers because of fighting. I was a bigger kid, so I managed to hold my own. We never had much money, and my mother worked hard and was very proud. I know I’m a stronger person because of my upbringing,” James says with certainty.
High school was easier he tells me. James was the BC Junior Olympic Training Program High Jump champion, and remembers clearly when he was in Grade 11, seeing the woman that would later become his wife, at a high jump competition.
“It really was love at first sight. I saw her and said 'I love that girl and one day, I’m going to marry her.' She was in Grade 12, and we didn’t start dating for some time, but I did marry her a few years after we started dating,” he says, with a big smile on his face.
They both went to Simon Fraser University and studied Education, wanting to be teachers. James graduated four years later with a certificate in Education and his wife went on to graduate with a degree in Education and Dance. He taught elementary school for eight years, with a focus on language, band and guitar. James then taught high school including band and guitar. He was elected and served as a school trustee.
Together wife his wife, James helped develop and produced James Barber in the CBC television cooking show ‘The Urban Peasant’ which went on to international syndication.
Throughout the years, James has done a number of different things including marketing, business planner, running arts organizations, dance companies and touring a group of Chinese Acrobats across Canada. He also made an unsuccessful run for Mayor of Vancouver in 2005. James and his wife have two daughters, one of whom is a professional dressage rider. He has written a number of books including one about the rules of marriage and ‘How to be Married Happily’ telling me
“My beautiful wife and I have been married for 45 years now. Clearly we’ve got it figured out!” #notastranger
*Fact Check - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Block_settlement
**Fact Check - http://amzn.to/1qhD2Rf