Today, May 7th, marks the birthday of our dear friend, Jo-Ann Sloane, known affectionately as "our JoJo," who passed away a little over two years ago, on February 3, 2008. For the past three years, whenever this day arrives, I take an extra moment to reflect on JoJo. I think she is smiling down right now at the fact that I am now in the midst of the Democratic primary fray myself--I am sure she would have a lot to say, with her amazingly sharp wit.
This past March, the lobby of the Plainfield Area YMCA was renamed in JoJo's honor, and a dedication ceremony was held at which her commitment to the Y(where she helped coordinate homeless services) was honored. In addition, Jo-Ann worked as a patient advocate at Lyons VA Hospital, where she was much-beloved, and she contributed tirelessly to grassroots activities and events in Plainfield.
JoJo was also a founding member of the New Democrats for Plainfield, where she worked to help build our grassroots movement, becoming a "sister" in the extended political family of New Dems throughout our city. She also served as Al McWilliams's longtime treasurer, and helped coordinate all our political events, as well as other community events.
Another side of JoJo was her artistic, creative side. Back in May of 2005, JoJo, Carol Anderson-Lewis, Will Jones, poet Hubert Reeder, and I, along with some other volunteers, got together to produce the hugely successful Plainfield Poetry Festival (Young Voices in Verse), co-sponsored by Plainfield United and the Plainfield Area YMCA. Al McWilliams delivered a proclamation commemorating the event, and nationally-renowned poet Eugene Redmond (Poet Laureate of East St. Louis) came and read some of his work. Afterward, Professor Redmond had all the young poets sign a huge (about 3 feet long!) birthday card that he would be presenting to his dear friend, Dr. Maya Angelou, whose birthday it was.
After the prizes were awarded in the various age categories for the students, JoJo presented flowers to our own guest poet, Taraka Gilbert, whom we named as "poet laureate" of Plainfield for that year. JoJo, who also wrote poetry (and recited spontaneous verse on occasion), was incredibly pleased at the turnout for the event, where young poets from the Plainfield Public Schools read their work while their parents looked on proudly. That was a shining moment in Plainfield.
When Dan Damon wrote a blog post back in March about the dedication of the Y Lobby to Jo-Ann, I posted a comment, which I would like to re-post here. It captures well, I think, the compassion that Jo-Ann extended to all her friends, family, co-workers, and political family.
I also attended the YMCA dedication to our dear Jo-Ann. As the guitarist sang "You've Got a Friend," I remembered back to November 2004 when, the day after the re-election of George W. Bush, Jo-Ann took me out to dinner. I was emotionally drained by the joy of seeing Ray Blanco (whose political campaign I managed) elected as the city's first Latino and first openly gay councilman, as well as the despair about the re-election of George W. Bush. I was quite teary and emotional about the escalation of the war in Iraq, and was just inconsolable, or so I thought.
Jo-Ann, whose life work was dedicated to veterans, talked to me soothingly for a couple of hours over dinner, giving me an insightful perspective on the awful suffering of the soldiers and veterans, and the challenges that they faced upon their return home. Her compassion and deep sense of caring was evident, and it made me understand why she was so loved and esteemed by her VA compatriots.
Of course, later on in our own friendship, the old Jo-Ann kicked in, and she called me a crybaby forever after when we recalled it. I didn't mind it, coming from her, because the affection and warmth that accompanied her teasing still came through. It was wonderful seeing her dear friends like Cookie, Carol, Roni, and others at the service.
I miss her every day.