As young kids, we rarely know exactly where we’ll end up. Jamaal is no different. After listening to Kenny G with his father, he had one goal: to play the saxophone so everyone would like him. But things didn’t turn out that way. And as you’ll soon learn from Jamaal’s story, there were a number of other unexpected twists and turns that resulted in the charming and inspiring gent we know today.
I was a military kid, so I moved around a lot. But we were based in Colorado Springs. I was short and fat, and the kids called me “Sinbad” because my hair was short My dad used to always listen to Kenny G, so I decided to try out for the band and play the saxophone so others would like me. I walked into the band room and the moment the teacher saw me, he said, “I found my tuba player.” So, it backfired. But that started to mold my personality as a mellow, soft spoken kid.
Going into my seventh grade year, I just slept and ate and slept and ate. I grew over a foot and was awkwardly tall and lanky. It was crazy. The rest of middle school, I discovered I liked sports. I felt like I had the body then, so I ended up setting records in track and played basketball and football. In high school, I excelled more in basketball and football, which eventually led to me getting a full-ride scholarship playing football at Arizona State University (ASU).
My dad used to always listen to Kenny G, so I decided to try out for the band and play the saxophone so others would like me. I walked into the band room and the moment the teacher saw me, he said, “I found my tuba player.”
Colorado Springs was a very small city where everyone knew everybody. So, my story became very well known, which made me feel like I was under a magnifying glass. I was very conscious of it, but i stayed very disciplined–no drinking, drugs, or anything like that. All of the attention–the news clippings and awards–was quite an adjustment for the athlete who used to be a short, fat kid.
In college, it was my first time away from home. I still didn’t do any partying or drinking because my love had really grown for football. I was red-shirted my freshman year and finally got on the field as a sophomore. And that’s when I started to really make a name for myself. My junior year, I had a breakout season and every time I went on to the field, I pretty much scored a touchdown. That’s when I’d really gone from a small-town kid to being in the limelight at a big university. And that’s also when I started to change.
ASU at that time was was ranked Playboy’s #1 party school. So, I eventually started to experiment with partying, having fun, and really experiencing that part of the college life. With all of the attention, my ego started to grow. I was no longer the small-town kid, but completely changed how I carried myself, and was more of the stereotypical football player.
I walked with my head held high because I felt like I was the man. In my mind, I was balling out on the field, which meant I was at ASU making my family proud. Everybody liked me. When you’re that young-minded, that’s what it’s about: how many people like you. After my junior year, I had the opportunity to leave school because I was considered a top prospect for the NFL draft.
I talked to my parents, and they thought I should stay in school. My coaches told me they would move me to wide receiver so I could catch more balls to up my stock in the draft. But I got in trouble that summer, and I ended up getting suspended for the first two games of my senior season, which didn’t look really good at all.
My junior year [in college at Arizona State University], I had a breakout football season; every time I went on to the field, I pretty much scored a touchdown. That’s when I’d really gone from a small-town kid to being in the limelight. And that’s also when I started to change.
In retrospect, that killed my draft status hopes because I went from a top prospect to someone who was seen as a liability off of the field. And that’s when I started to lose the love for the game because I began to see the politics involved–it wasn’t just put on your pads, play with your boys, and go home. There was a lot more to it.
Suddenly, I realized people’s opinions could affect how far you went, and it didn’t matter how talented you were. I really saw that when I went to football camp with the Browns and Redskins, but was released because of my previous reputation. And for a long time I blamed other people. But it was my fault. So, I tried to cope by staying in the party scene.
Once the football dream died in me, and there was no more hope in being drafted to the NFL, friends pretty much left. At that time, I started dating a girl and she was the only one who kept me sane because I felt like everyone abandoned me. I remember one of my friends at the time, one of the only friends I had left, stopped me at my all time low and said, “Man, you are blessed. Stay that way.” And it clicked: stay blessed. I was always a believer my whole life, but that was my wake up moment.
My girlfriend at the time said I should try modeling. I never laughed so much in my life. For such a long time, I saw masculinity as knocking heads in a helmet and pads, not thinking it was possible to transition that same masculinity into an art.
My girlfriend at the time said I should try modeling. I never laughed so much in my life. For such a long time, I saw masculinity as knocking heads in a helmet and pads, not thinking it was possible to transition that same masculinity into art. But despite my reaction, she set me up with my first gig, a booking for a casino in Arizona. It was an all-day shoot where I basically stood at the pool with my shirt off and didn’t move–all day. And when it was over, they cut me a check. When I saw how big that check was, I decided to model.
I became active on Model Mayhem because there isn’t a big market in Arizona. It was also around the time Instagram just got started. Every time I got booked, I would post a photo on Facebook and always write, “stay blessed.” As you can imagine, a lot of people wondered why I would post something like that when they had just seen me partying the night before. But, for me, it was the start of a mental and spiritual transition, I just didn’t know it.
Eventually, I decided to move to L.A. because the love and passion for modeling was growing and there was more opportunity there. One day, after I booked my first national commercial, I decided to make a shirt at a kiosk that said, “Stay Blessed” and I posted it on social media. It got all kinds of comments and people starting reaching out and asking if they could order a shirt of their own.
That’s when a lightbulb really came on. I prayed on it and said to God that if he opened the door for me, I’ll run through it. It was already a pretty natural next step since I’d gone to school for digital art and secondary education, since I wanted to start off as an art teacher. Now, I’m the CEO of my own clothing line, and it’s very fruitful and fulfilling. But that’s just the overview of my story.