Music and Karate at the Dojo
How Jason Jordan prepares youth for opportunity
May 22, 2019
“This guy comes in.” Jason smiles because he knows this story is incredible. “I’m playing the piano—I’m supposed to be selling keyboards. We started talking. And he told me to come to his studio. I ended up touring with him a month later. Touring led to writing. Writing led to producing. Producing led to awards.”
Now forty-two years old, Jason D. Jordan is a Grammy award-winning producer. He’s also a pastor and a karate and music teacher in St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. With pride, he shows me his Grammy Award and the two Grammy nominations framed on the walls of his studio. But he gets most excited when he’s talking about helping his community.
“My heart has always been to give back to the youth. There’s nothing greater than giving back to a young person and seeing what they do with it. That’s worth all the pain and the effort and the finances.”
Eight years ago, Jason created the Youth Development Academy (YDA)—a karate and soon-to-be music program in St. Thomas. In August 2017, he taught karate to nearly one hundred students in the basement of the church where he pastors. On the main floor of the church, Jason directed the church’s band.
One month later, Category 5 Hurricanes Irma and Maria tore through the Caribbean.
“When Irma came the church was flooded out,” said Jason. “When Maria came, it was totally destroyed.”
The karate and music lessons were on hold indefinitely until Jason could find a new space for his vision. In March of 2018, he relocated and reopened the YDA in a two-floor, bare-bones warehouse—high above a flood zone.
Jason set up the dojo on the first floor. He wanted to build the music school on the second floor – but the space was too hot, and the noise from the airport nearby would disrupt his classes.
Jason contacted the Department of Education for assistance, and the Department of Education linked Jason to All Hands and Hearts – Smart Response. After assessing the warehouse and Jason’s programs, All Hands and Hearts determined that we could rebuild YDA, and that YDA was an important resource for the community.
“There’s not much to do on the island.” Rashawn’s daughter attends the dojo at the new YDA. “We’ve been coming here about three years now.”
Blair, whose daughter has attended YDA for about two months, is pleased with Jason and all his daughter has learned and will learn at the dojo. “Number one is discipline. The second thing is protection. I want her to feel confident and not be scared of the world.”
Stephon Smith, a student at the local university has already begun an apprenticeship with Jason in Jason’s personal studio.
“He’s taught me the hardware of the studio equipment—the mixing board, the amps.”
When I asked Stephon what his goals were, he said he wants to “make it worldwide.”
Jason teaches so his students will be ready when opportunity strikes. “It’s those chance meetings. I want to give others those same opportunities.”
In the first week of February, the All Hands and Hearts team in St. Thomas finished retrofitting the warehouse. We installed ceiling sheetrock—layered by an adhesive that will soundproof the music room. We also installed flooring, two bathrooms, and we reinforced walls in the computer lab where students will learn how to navigate recording software.
Jason’s warehouse is now temperate enough, clean enough, and quiet enough for youth in St. Thomas to safely and comfortably get a little closer to making it worldwide.
Story and photography by James Cross for All Hands and Hearts