At an early age, Jermaine LaFate found power in words. The discovery proved to be life changing.
Final installment of a four-part series.
Jermaine LaFate never had the patience to sit down with brush in hand, like his mother, folk artist Eunice LaFate, whose artwork and words were featured in the July 2020 issue. Instead, he was drawn to the spoken and written word and how they could be disseminated in unique ways.
From an early age, LaFate (Scrum Master and Senior Agile Coach at Choice Hotels International) was constantly surrounded by art. “My mother’s art hung all over our walls. Our house looked like an art gallery,” says LaFate. “At the time, I thought painting was her hobby. I didn’t know it became a business and an identity for her.”
This created an ideal environment for LaFate and his friends to explore their creativity and freedom of expression, including the art of rap.
Growing up in the late ‘90s, we listened to a lot of hip-hop,” says LaFate. “The genre spoke of the Black experience in impoverished neighborhoods,” something which inspired LaFate and his friends to form neighborhood teen groups to write and showcase their love of the spoken word. He and his friends would hang out in LaFate’s basement for hours on end, honing their talent, critiquing others raps and enjoying the overall flow of a good rap.
LaFate didn’t realize it then, but all the days he spent working on his literary expression occupied enough of his time to keep him guarded from the negative elements of his neighborhood on the East Side of Wilmington.
“As a child, I saw a lot of things outside of my home that were detrimental to me and my peers’ well-being,” says LaFate. “The arts were a refuge from the violence, drugs and crime that were prevalent on the East Side.”
Eventually, Jermaine’s passion for words would lead him to a degree in mass communication at Virginia State University where, in addition to a full course load, LaFate played guard and offensive tackle for the VSU Trojans football team. Prior to graduating college in 2006, LaFate was named CIAA Scholar-Athlete of the Year, boasting a 3.88 GPA.
As far back as Jermaine can remember, his house was open to anyone in the neighborhood.
LaFate’s parents, Eunice and Robert LaFate, spent a lot of time teaching Jermaine the values associated with the Jamaican culture, including the importance of “loving your family and having pride in your community,” he says. And every summer, LaFate would fly to Jamaica to spend time with his grandparents, Aletha and Headly Hanniford.
“I learned at a very young age how influential and beloved my grandmother was to her community,” he says. “I saw my mother as an extension of my grandmother, in the way she opened her home and how she gave back to the neighborhood.”
As an only child, LaFate’s natural inclination was to befriend other neighborhood children through programs he was associated with such as the YMCA’s East Wilmington summer camp where he met best friend and fellow “Arts as Prevention” participant Kevin Frazier (featured in our August 2020 issue).
“The foundation of many of my lifelong relationships was shaped from my experiences with neighborhood childhood friends,” says LaFate.
The ‘Arts as Prevention’ Program
As one of the first four “Arts as Prevention” participants, LaFate sees the power in the arts. “I believe that everyone is an artist,” he says. He credits his mother’s process of “blank canvassing” to his success in many facets of his life.
“Art is very much like ‘blank canvassing,’ taking an idea of the mind, processing it and then turning it into something visible to the eye,” says LaFate. “If you can do that, you’re an artist.”
LaFate and lifelong friend, Andre Harris, also an “Arts as Prevention” participant (featured in our September issue), co-founded Cliq Mentor Foundation, a venture that will focus on mentoring for elementary and middle school-aged youth in Wilmington using the “Arts as Prevention” model to promote positive behaviors and actions.
LaFate and Harris intend to collaborate with like-minded businesses like LaFate Gallery, owned by his mother, Eunice, which recently celebrated its fifth anniversary at its Market Street location.
Their hope for the venture is to provide much-needed resources to “…empower youth and build their self-esteem and self-worth, no matter what their life circumstances are,” says LaFate. “We want to take the concept that ‘every child is creative’ and focus on his or her ability to create art, in order to prevent other destructive behaviors and actions.”
Power of Communication
Though LaFate does not identify as an artist, he still sees art in everyday things. From his unique artistic upbringing and mother’s “blank canvassing” approach, LaFate used these tools to help navigate both his football and communications career.
LaFate never played football as a child. His parents were too concerned about his safety. It was only once LaFate’s older cousin, Kendall Brower, convinced LaFate’s parents to let him try out for football at Charter School of Wilmington, that his parents saw his potential.
“[Kendall] urged my father to put me into pee-wee football camps,” says LaFate. “He joked that I was ‘too big’ to be wasting my size on baseball.” Looking back, LaFate sees how closely football mimicked the arts.
“I had to learn how plays were drawn up, and how to work together as a team in order for the play to work correctly,” says LaFate. “Football is a structured process and was already familiar to me because of my experience with the ‘Arts as Prevention’ program.”
LaFate also sees the metaphorical link from his mother’s artistic process to his career in project management.
“The moment my mother sat down at the table, she would plan her painting, stencil out the image, mix the color and then paint on the canvas,” he says. “The painting wasn’t finished until she signed her name. This process is exactly what we do in project management. We take an idea or concept and turn it into reality.”
LaFate began working at ING Direct in 2007 as a sales associate and moved up the ranks to become a sales coach after only four years at the company. During that time, he took management courses and made some distinct impressions upon senior leadership because of his strong grasp of business systems.
LaFate understood complex coding languages and development processes, which enabled him to become certified as a Scrum Master in Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) methodology. It’s a process which is used in the Agile model and is an “iterative approach to delivering a project throughout its life cycle,” according to the Association of Project Management.
In his current position at Choice Hotels International, which franchises nearly 7,000 hotels in more than 40 countries and territories, LaFate uses his project management expertise and knowledge of business functionality to improve upon the user experience and enhance certain functions within the branded tools of a hotel’s website.
Though communication became his full-time career, LaFate will occasionally attend spoken word gatherings to perform things he has written in the past, including Sleep Walkers (Day 3), a piece he wrote back in 2010.
— Thank you for reading part four of the four-part series: The Gift of Inspiration. Past articles can be found in the July, August and September 2020 issues of Out & About at OutAndAboutnow.com/archives