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John Paul Taylor: Life Beyond Your Struggles


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John Paul Taylor did not have a fairy tale start in life.  He was one of seven children to come from the tumultuous union of Sarah Taylor and Roosevelt Taylor, Sr.  John Paul does not have many memories of his father, who worked in the Steel Industry but was rarely around in his life. He would in fact end up spending much of his youth in and out of foster homes, along with his younger siblings.
John Paul says of that time in his life, ”It was hard. You felt bad sometimes at having to live like you did while you saw other kids you went to school with, with real homes, and mamas and daddies that cared about them. That was how I became introduced to poetry. I was young and beginning to express anger and a counselor encouraged me to write what I was thinking, and I began to do so. But even though I wrote throughout my high school years, it was not until I was in college that I had the courage to actually share my words in public.”  But still John Paul credits his early years of writing in silence as being a part of how he survived those difficult years in his life.
As a child of the foster care system John Paul also talked about the impact he has seen in others who aged out of the foster care system at 18 and were then left to try to find their way in life on their own with no support system. He says that was not the case for him as his older siblings kept in contact with him and helped him prepare his application for admission to UAB and also helped him with his financial aid applications.
John Paul speaks of his relationships with his siblings and his pride in their accomplishments with a sense of sincerity that cannot be mistaken. His oldest brother Roosevelt Senior is a retired military Veteran. His sister Mary, is a teacher at Wenonah High School. His sister Carol Ann is an entrepreneur.  His brother Bruce, is a Doctor of Internal Medicine. His sister Angela is a traveling nurse. And his youngest brother, James Taylor is a high school counselor.
John Paul says  that when he looks at his own life, and when he looks at the lives of his siblings in spite of the challenges of their beginnings, that he sees it for all of them as a kind of life after the struggle statement.
If you know John Paul at all you know that his struggles to be a part of his own children’s lives have been a part of what defines him.
Obviously we can find context for why he has fought so hard when we look back through the mirror of his own struggles. But according to John Paul even the battle to fight for a place in the lives of his own children came with a definite measure of frustration.
“A lot of times in the beginning when I would go to places like DHR to fight for custody or even at times just visitation rights, I would be treated like my interest in my children was some kind of hustle, or some kind of effort to avoid child support, or get back at the mom. It was frustrating having to get past that stereotype.”
But today is a different day for John Paul the father, as he now has full legal custody of his youngest daughter, Maya and shared custody of his daughter Gwen. He says of what that means to him,” After growing up with my dad not being there, and having to go through the whole foster care experience, it means everything to me as a man and a father, to have the chance to be here for my girls. To be able to show them love, and to be able to help them to grow into positive, whole adults, that is my world in a nutshell.”
John Paul is also one the founders of the Real Life Poets. He says of how the group got started, “It was me, Obeah, and a brother named David Harbrough, who passed away during the time. We were doing readings and talking about doing other things in the community, when David died. After David died, Obeah and I just sort of started doing things in the community in his memory. We started out doing open mike events in the community, but instead of paying to get in we would ask that they bring food items.  And then we would take the food items and have a monthly community meal. I think a coat drive may have been our next project.” Here we are years later and John Paul and the Real Life Poets continue to provide community outreach, and continue their efforts to bring arts to  the youth in our community.
As he looks to the future John Paul  notes that, “With the Real Life Poets we are beginning to have more exposure on a national and international level. Through the organizations that we have affiliated and the conferences we have participated in, I can see us having a voice in the effort at a national level to better teach our culture to our youth. I love that!”

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