My long name comes from this: Jordan is my mother’s maiden name, John is my brother’s name and they put that in my name, so I was born George John Jordan. Then I was confirmed and I chose the Catholic saint Thomas Aquinas because I’ve always been far more spiritual than I was religious. If you look at the Christian faith, Jesus was far more spiritual than he was religious — he said once, “I want mercy, not sacrifice.” He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” That was revolutionary back then, and I like that.
And George comes from my father George. My father was a brilliant man. His father was a coal miner in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. The funny thing is, my father was born in Kingston, Pennsylvania, my mother was born in Kingston, Jamaica. He was white, she is black. They met on a blind date. He graduated from Harvard Law and he had this huge trajectory but he got sick right away after law school. But even though he was not very physically health he could always read, and because I was a nerd, we had that father-son bond. He still had his pride and his swagger, intellectually.
Mother was very strong. In my house it was always about strong women, because physically, my mother was the one to do stuff. She’d pick him up and she took care of him. So my mom is super tough. She’s the kind of person who I’d say, “Mom, someone was mean to me today,” and she’d be like, “What do you say back?” and I’d say, “Nothing,” and she’d say, “Well that’s not my son!”
WE ASK FOUR QUESTIONS OF EVERYONE: “What is the best advice you’ve ever received?” “What is the greatest challenge you’ve ever faced?” “Describe an event that changed your life.” And “What two things are you most grateful for?”
The best advice I ever received was from my mom. “Have faith, the Lord always delivers.”
The greatest challenge was that my mom’s house was being foreclosed on. Because my father had died, there were taxes and it fell to me to financially solve the problem. If I did not solve the problem, my mother, my main girl, would have been out, she would have nowhere to live. We solved the problem.
An event that changed my life was when my father was dying, he was going into a surgery, and the doctor said he had a 50% chance to live. The last thing I heard him say was, “Your help has been invaluable,” which was very nice to hear. We waited six or seven hours and there was no word, so we went home. He was at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, in intensive care — one of the best hospitals you could possibly be in. And I had an iPhone and I went back to work and I got the phone call from my mother, this buzzing, and he ended up surviving that particular surgery but dying a month later.
But the phone buzzed, and it was huge pressure. I knew on the other side of that phone call, he’s a dead man or he’s alive, and since then it’s helped me keep perspective. A lot of times I get caught up in stuff, and I remember, “When that phone was buzzing, and you knew once you answered it, and you’re never going to forget your mom saying, ‘You still have a dad.'” That’s a holy-shit story, “This is real, this is a human being right now.” A lot of growth happened through that experience, and one of the reasons I like to do these jokes nowadays is because I know there are people who are going through these things. That’s why I say I take jokes seriously. When I think about the stress of the dad thing and I think about what some people are going through — we all have to carry our own crosses in certain ways, and so light things that can make us appreciate the good things in life, that’s legit stuff, man. And if you can push those vibes out there people are gonna take those vibes because a lot of people are suffering.
I was 20 or 21 when that phone call came in, and it was a 10 out of 10 on the scale of stress. And I do not like that feeling. But I save that and I use it as a high-water mark. It made me realize there are things that can happen in life and they can happen at any time.
The things I am most grateful for are faith and family. Those are cliches so I want to try to make them less cliche. The faith is because there have been times in my life where I felt, “There is no way out of this situation, financially, socially, physically,” times when someone close to you is passing away, things like that when you feel like no one is backing you. When I talk about faith I view it the way Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice,” in some places they call the concept the Tao — the concept that it will work out, which is very reassuring when you feel like your options are closing. That’s gotten me through hard times.
Secondly, my family is the only reason I’ve been able to have regular friends and been more social. Because in the beginning, it was very hard for me in school. I just didn’t know what to do in social situations and I’d get so stressed about stuff, and over time because people accepted me and gave me a lot of love, because family was there for me, I became comfortable with who I was. And people become comfortable with you when you become comfortable with yourself. That’s why I “Like” all my posts first on Facebook. It’s a little running joke. It’s my little thing: You’ve got to like your thing and then people can come and like it — but if you don’t like it first, how can they be expected to like it?