About Jon Mychal

(he/they)
Editor, Gardener, Hospitality, Musician, Organizer, Socialist
https://linktr.ee/jonmheatherly

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Get to Know Me

My story began in 1990, at a rural town in northwest Tennessee, near Reelfoot Lake. It’s a small railroad town established during the antebellum south; Union City intersected the Nashville/Northwestern Railroad with the Mobile/Ohio Railroad. My parents named me Jon Mychal after my Great-grandfather, John Allison Heatherly — a WW2 veteran.

I’m the oldest of three — a brother and sister. Growing up with siblings taught me to share. Though being the oldest taught me another lesson — accepting responsibility for others. I’m an American mutt who grew up Methodist and what felt like the middle class.

The surname “Heatherly” stems from an area in southwest England called Down Hatherly in Gloucestershire. The name derives from the Old English ‘haguþorn’ or ‘hawthorn’ combined with ‘leah’ or ‘(woodland) clearing.’

Communicative and Curious 

Mom says I always had a knack for talking — saying I spoke in complete sentences from 10 months old onward. A family of teachers and farmers, my Dad taught me to spell my name before I even entered Kindergarten. Further refinement of my communication skills continues to serve me as I grow older.

We moved to East Tennessee right before I entered high school. Athens became my home for the next several years. I seized the opportunity of moving away to open up about my sexuality. I knew I was gay since eleven and wanted to enjoy my youth openly, so I came out at fourteen.

Coming out was hard.

 

My family didn’t understand at the time, but it was a dark summer for me in 2005. It turned out to be my first real bout with severe depression. Though this wouldn’t be my first time dealing with mental health concerns, I came out of it stronger with the help of a family counselor.

Early Passion for Music

While I grew up, family and culture expected me to like and excel at sports. That didn’t work out as planned. I replaced dashed hopes of playing baseball with piano lessons, per my interests. My parents persuaded me to try soccer, too. While I played for a few years, that hobby was then replaced with community theater.

 

Piano lessons were part of my life for over a decade, and I expressed my interest in music and the arts through church plays, children’s choir, and band. Starting with trombone in junior high, I later picked up solo baritone for Pavarotti’s “Nessun dorma” from Turandot.

 

Marching band, jazz band, concert band, choir, chorale, state competitions — you name it. Sometimes I would earn a small stipend for performances at local festivals. I won several awards with All-State and university honors bands, and it even led to scholarships later in college.

A Writer Is Born

Writing and speaking were always solid skills for me. While I excelled early at speaking, I developed faster with Advanced Placement classes. Rather than dual enrollment, I chose AP because they required a test at the end to confirm you learned the material.

Love for words led me to take up the helm as editor-in-chief of my first university’s newspaper. The outgoing editor sought to save it from inevitable demise, as she was the only member remaining. Begun in 1895, The New Exponent at Tennessee Wesleyan University would soon be reborn.

During my tenure, we rebuilt the staff from one person to 30-strong. We acquired a new staff advisor, hosted scheduled meetings, and resumed monthly print publications. I still reminisce about those years.

Music remained a part of my life through college. I participated in jazz band, concert choir, and accompanied on piano. We toured East Tennessee and Chicago during my enrollment, making so many great friends and memories.

Yet, I ended up dropping out of college at that time. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and it was tough to keep trudging on aimlessly. My non-academic activities kept me going, but I wasn’t attending classes. Plus, I allowed some other “extra-curricular” activities to distract me.

Despite my academic foibles, working in the hospitality industry sustains me to this day. Though I started in fast food back in 2007, I worked in various capacities from waiter to caterer, retail associate to shift manager. But, it’s not so bad because I do well enough now doing what I do.

Detour Around the Riverbend

After my 21st birthday, I ended up stumbling into a relationship. I moved to Chattanooga, TN, for a few years and grew so much as a person while there. I had always lived with my parents until then, so it was a big deal to move out and live with someone I dated.

Saying goodbye to fast food, I weaseled my way into casual dining. A local steakhouse chain offered a swanky atmosphere, top-notch food, and a confident attitude. Finally, I felt more like a grown-up, earning a better income than any time prior.

Little did I know, but I would first dip my toes into community organizing and activism while I was there. After that, my interest grew in the subject of food, equality, and sustainability. Finally, I found a crew worth keeping, and that led to my passion for urban gardening.

Assembling for weekly potlucks, I encountered some of the most amazing people. They cooked such fresh, down-to-earth foods, many of them vegan. We spoke about things like food deserts, and I learned of some local urban farms.

 

Besides gardening, I also did some protest work through a local peace center. We gathered to protest the lack of Medicaid Expansion in Tennessee after the Affordable Care Act. This left hundreds of thousands of people without healthcare. Unfortunately, Tennessee still has yet to expand Medicaid here, even though the federal government will foot the bill.

That relationship ended, so I moved to live with my parents in early 2015 while I collected the pieces. They had since moved to Murfreesboro. So, little did I know, Chattanooga was only my first experience within the realm of community organizing.

Some time passed before I regained my footing as a single person, and it wasn’t the most fun experience. But, with a lot of help from my parents, family, and friends, I started rebuilding my life and found the job where I still work today. I’m a trainer and head server at a local casual dining restaurant, and I’m thankful to do better there than most other careers that don’t need formal education.

Though I went back to school off and on, I still haven’t attained a degree yet. My problem is that I have so many interests, it’s hard to pick one. I’m almost limiting what I can do for the rest of my life. Opportunities at Medium or elsewhere might grow — who knows?

Green Grass Where We Water It

I continue pursuing a passion for community organizing here. For several years now, I’ve been a core member of a local non-profit called Murfreesboro Community Gardening

 

We learn to grow food, build community, and share our spoils. My membership there actually inspired me to begin writing again. Our master gardener, Autumn, created a new website with a blog — where I cross-post my garden posts.

There are other realms of community organizing where I participated. For example, we helped recover lost wages to vulnerable immigrants who worked for a sub-contractor of a major grocery chain. During Trump’s detention of immigrant families, I assisted a local network in acting as a guide for Spanish-speaking folks. We ensured their safe travel on public transportation.

Most successes arose through the efforts of coalitions. For example, we petitioned then-Governor Bill Haslam for the early release of Cyntoia Brown. The State of Tennessee convicted her of murder as a minor for self-defense against her rapist, but we got her out.

Also, I did a small part with the Community Oversight Now coalition to canvass and educate local voters in support of Amendment 1. Its successful passage created a community-led oversight board of the local police department. This was in direct response to repeated incidences of murder at the hands of police.

 

Without a doubt, Bernie Sanders had a significant role in my participation in electoral politics and the class struggle. You learn little to nothing about working-class politics and actual leftism in schools here. If it weren’t the impression Sanders left on me, I never would have led racial justice training sessions.

Nor would organizers have asked me to organize for the Women’s March. Nor a “Believe Survivors Candlelight Vigil” in response to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. I also volunteer annually in the local Boro Pride, which has a thriving LGBTQ+ community. I keep moving left and staunchly support worker-owned enterprise.

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My story continues to this day. I hone my craft in the hospitality industry. I update this blog regularly and edit for The Daily Cuppa with Katie Michaelson and Adrienne Parkhurst. People are not one niche or sub-topic.

 

These life experiences and more molded me into the person I am today, and that fulfills me. Not only do I write and edit, but I’m also a musician, community activist, and so much more. I’m a brother, son, and uncle times two!

 

If you made it to the end, thank you so much for your time. I’ll likely edit this in the future as my story plays out or where I see fit. Again, I welcome you to subscribe to my socials below and access my full work here.