Local writer spotlights community with musing creative stories

Writer Jazmine Otey with her proud father Kevin Otey after her 2016 graduation from William Fleming.

Special to The Roanoke Tribune

Jazmine Otey, 23, will forever remember 2020 as the year that God forced her to sit down and discover her purpose in life. From several deaths within the family to having to attend her college graduation on Youtube Live, Otey experienced several heartbreaking moments. But in the end, the pain of this year resulted in her spirit being reborn and strengthened in a way she never deemed possible.

“I honestly feel as if I aged 10 years within this one year alone,” Otey said. “For the first time in my life, I had to let go and let God take the lead. Once I was filled with his spirit, I saw the world through brighter lenses.”

Born and raised in Roanoke, Jazmine has always aimed to do her best at all that she does. She graduated from William Fleming High School in 2016 with a 4.2 GPA and in the top 0.01 percent of her class.

That same year she then went to James Madison University to pursue a degree in journalism. In 2019, she traveled to Italy for a month-long journalism study abroad program, “Summer in Urbino Italy: Documenting a Community.” There, she was trained by Pulitzer Prize winners, Washington Post photographers and editorial consultants.

In May 2020, she graduated from JMU with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Arts and Design with a concentration in journalism and a minor in writing rhetoric and technical communication. But her graduation was far from what she anticipated. After working her hardest for four years, her commencement ceremony was held on Youtube Live due to COVID-19.

Ebony Dance, her step-mother, said it was hurtful to watch. Dance was there for Otey when she first applied to JMU and was heartbroken by the anti-climatic ending.

“It was demoralizing to see that she had that build-up to the top of this mountain and there was no hooray or congratulations in the end,” Dance said.

But her family came together to ensure that her day was still a special one. Her father, mother and siblings decorated the house and all got Otey graduation gifts. They sat by her side in support as she watched her graduation.

Otey doesn’t know what she would do without her loving family and expressed that they were her strength during this difficult year.

Kevin Otey, Jazmine’s father, has had custody of Jazmine since she was two years old and is proud of how far she has come.

“It feels like a huge accomplishment on my behalf because being a parent doesn’t come with a handbook,” Kevin said. “I give all the praise to God because he was preparing me for this all along before I even had a child. Sometimes God takes situations that we may look at as hardships and uses it to prepare us for the ultimate goal down the road.”

During much of 2020, the family of six had to rely on each other for support. Dance was in and out of the hospital due to health complications. In June, Kevin’s step-father passed. In early December, the family lost a relative to COVID-19.

The family had to depend on their faith to persevere.

“We didn’t have control over nothing,” Dance said. “The demon we were fighting was something that we couldn’t even see, so we had to have faith.”

“I needed God to help me protect and guide this family,” Kevin added.

But while the year was a difficult one, it resulted in positive aspects as well. Jazmine not only found herself but built a stronger relationship with both her family and God. She is also currently working on a self-help book that will help individuals embrace God’s love and simultaneously discover their true selves.

“I am forever grateful for God’s grace and my loving family,” Jazmine said. “This year was a difficult one, but because of them I made it to 2021.”