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Be the change

Barbara Dunn

March 9, 2018

Perhaps it was coincidence, but more likely not. For Jonathan Thompson, creator of JT’s Chronicles, it all began with a life-changing experience on a bus ride to Nashville.

Jonathan, also known as JT, was raised in Hyannis and graduated from Barnstable High School. Although he participated in sports, it was his parents’ love of music that rubbed off most. Performing roller skating routines led to break dancing and lip sync. Eventually, he and childhood friends created a band, “The Young Generation,” which JT sheepishly credits with “[keeping] me out of trouble.”

In 1996, after writing a song following the loss of a close friend, Jonathan boarded a bus to Nashville to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. A man in tattered clothes got on the bus and, despite dozens of empty seats, sat next to JT. While bantering with Jonathan, the man paused to recite the psalm, “The Lord is My Shepherd.” At a later stop, the man stepped off the bus and disappeared.

As Jonathan’s journey to Nashville continued, he decided to open an envelope he had received from his friend’s mom. Magically tucked inside that envelope was his friend’s prayer card inscribed with that very same psalm.

“The experience of that trip gave me a burst of life, strength, and positivity,” Jonathan shares. “I knew then that I had to do more in my life and my community.”

Time moved forward and JT joined forces with his lifelong friend, Tim Lus. The two created a cable music video show and connected with music celebrities ranging from Jay-Z to Justin Timberlake. When I spoke with Tim, he told me that although they are opposites -- JT being more the center of attention and Tim staying behind the scenes -- they are best friends. Tim reflected that, “What started as JT having an ability to make an entire room fill with laughter has morphed into positivity.”

In 2016, an idea came to Jonathan while traveling to work on the Cape Cod Hospital shuttle. Realizing he could bring smiles and laughter far beyond those shuttle rides, JT Chronicles was officially born. Whether it's a YouTube clip, a Facebook post, or an Instagram photo, JT now has an inspiring message to get the day going. “I am your coffee,” he says with a twinkle in his eyes. Every message ends with the words he carries in his heart: “One Love, One Family, One Community.”

JT is everywhere showcasing community events, from promoting the Cotuit Arts Center's staged reading of "Riding on Duke's Train," to emceeing the fundraiser “Dancing with the Docs,” to entertaining at Barnstable’s Unity Day, an event dedicated to building a positive connection between police and community.

Brian Morrison, a Barnstable police officer and longtime friend, shared a heartwarming story of their common goal to spread goodwill. In 2016, Brian found himself pitted against JT. Both had been nominated for "Mayor of Cape Cod," a title created by the Art Westfall Foundation to recognize those having a positive influence in the community. “JT beat me by the slimmest of margins,” Brian recalled. “As he always does, he made it feel like we won together, as we are on the same team trying to promote the same message.”

Recently Jonathan literally took to the streets at the Hyannis Open Street festivities. Jane Walsh, owner of Red Fish, Blue Fish gift shop, spearheaded the event two years ago with the support of public officials and dedicated merchants. Having known Jonathan for many years, she perfectly captures what gives JT the special ability to connect with people: “He has this unique charm. He is so open and real and that gives others permission to do the same. JT embodies the spirit of this event.”

A personal story by newspaper columnist Saralee Perel speaks to JT’s gift of giving. Living with the challenges of a spinal cord injury left Saralee believing that dancing would be impossible. Two years ago, she met Jonathan at the Open Streets event. With JT’s support, the two stepped out onto Main Street and danced as the crowd cheered. Jonathan could see Saralee’s fears fading and he told her, “It’s all about positivity.”

Her gratitude is clear: “By graciously showing me I could dance, he helped me to believe in myself and do so many things I was certain I could never do again.”

I wondered how Jonathan manages a day when the glass is not feeling so full. I found the answer when I watched his YouTube video “End of a Very Hard Week” posted in April. On the heels of our community being crushed by the loss of Yarmouth Police Sgt. Sean Gannon, a very somber JT reminded us, “We still need to live life as best we can and support each other.”

One of Jonathan’s compelling YouTube videos shared last January focused on making a change. I listened to him encourage his audience: “Stop procrastinating. It’s your choice. Fix it.” My thoughts drifted to a quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

JT is certainly leading the way.

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