This is JJ.

Part One

His smile is warm and it's contagious.  His eyes are bright and welcoming.  Everything he does in life, he does with a full and open heart.  When you talk with JJ, you have his undivided attention, as if you're the only person in the world.  He is grounded, and spiritual, and he sings in a choir.  He meditates, and he considers his words before he speaks them.  He is connected to his roots.  He has a profound and quiet strength that you can feel when you're close to him.  He has lived in Williamsburg since before it was cool, and he works in marketing for a number of big name clients.  He does volunteer work that improves hundreds of lives.  JJ makes life look easy.  He looks like someone who breezes through each day, focusing on the positive and allowing the negative to simply slip past.  But this wasn't always the case.

JJ was born in Chicago in the eighties to parents who had emigrated from the Philippines to escape the Japanese occupation in World War II. When JJ was six, his father's job was transferred to Michigan.  Being Filipino in rural Michigan from ages 6-12 meant that JJ looked different from his peers, and the poverty his family experienced meant that he didn't have all of the things that other kids did.  Kids can be cruel, especially to the one who doesn't look like them.   At an early age, JJ learned what it meant to face racism and classism.

When he was 12, they moved to the San Jose area of California, where he spent the remainder of his childhood, and attended junior high and high school.  Though the culture of California was a breath of fresh air in some ways, JJ, his sister and his parents lived crammed into one room at his uncle's house.  It was not long after moving to California that JJ experienced the abuse which brought him many years later to CVTC.

Despite experiencing profound, chronic trauma, JJ completed a Bachelor's degree in film studies at UC Berkeley.  He then earned a Master's degree in Architecture and Preservation, which has allowed him to lead recovery efforts in the Philippines after the damage caused by 2013's typhoon and earthquake.  JJ has assisted the Filipino federal government in picking up and putting back together the pieces of national buildings and historic artifacts in the wake of devastating natural disaster.  He has taught others how to help in this work.  But the greatest restoration project in JJ's life was about to begin at CVTC: the restoration of his spirit, which had survived devastating disaster, and which for a time had looked all but broken...