College started out for me as a huge overwhelming place, that at first glance, I wasn’t sure I would conquer.  When I arrived on the campus of James Madison University, I was excited, fresh-faced, naive, a bit set in my ways and nervous….  Here I was on this campus and I instantly wondered, where will I fit in?  Who will I hang out with?

I had one friend there from a high school part-time job, but I couldn’t find her anywhere, when I first arrived.  In predominantly Caucasian environment,  found myself desperately seeking someone who looked like me.  Moving into my dorm room, I saw my friendly roommate breeze by me and strut out the room with friends, as though she already knew everyone on campus. 

“Great!” I thought – maybe I should’ve went to Virginia Tech with my other girlfriends from high school??

Finally, towards the end of the day, I spotted my friend Tiffany from high school.  She had attended the summer program and already had a slew of friends.  Friends that made up the 5% African American population of James Madison University in the year 2000. 

I exhaled – there was a group of people who I could instantly identify with.  WHEW! 

My first week of orientation, I became obsessed with finding other students, who looked like me and seemed as lost as I did that first day. I felt it was my duty to give back and “rescue them.”  Call me silly, but I wanted everyone to feel at home and never experience that  feeling I had the first day on campus.

That’s when I met her.  That night, I was walking around campus – eager to meet new friends.  I was 17 years old.   I met four girls.  At the time, I didn’t realize how much would change in almost 10 years.  All I knew was that we were all anxious for classes to get started. I was a Political Science Major, another wanted to work in the health science field, she was going to be a business major and the last one was majoring in psychology. 

If you looked at all of us, you would never think that she was going to be the first female DJ in Virginia on a major radio station.  The other three girls were louder and all fought for control of the conversation, in our bubbly excited ways.  She only interjected when she brought meaning to the conversation.  She had an affable smile on her face and she didn’t have a problem not being the center of the conversation.

Over the course of the next four years, I would always have a fondest for these four girls I met during orientation.  One became a part of my circle of friends.  The other girl had a Spanish class with me and sometimes we would see each other in the Airport Lounge , chit-chat in the commons or exchange ideas in the exec board meetings for Women of Color.

She marched to the tune of her own drummer.  She had been accepted into the honors program, she would talk about her grandfather, and she didn’t have her own computer freshman year.  She met my parents, during one of their visits to JMU.  She pierced my mom’s heart in that one meeting.  Once she divulged that she didn’t have a computer, my mom began to search frantically for some program to donate one to her.  She was unsuccessful in her search, but the mark was made. “How is she?” my mom would often ask.

My response, “she’s fine mom….” Because she was.  She excelled in school.  She walked around campus with a huge grin on her face at all times.  And she wasn’t afraid to be who she was. 

One day we were talking and she said to me, “I want to be a DJ.” And she went on to describe how she wanted to pursue her dream.  I remember looking at her like, GIRL WHAT?! In fact, I said it out loud, as I wasn’t one to keep my opinions to myself.  She repeated herself and smiled. 

I was full of doubt.  This girl, so humble, meek, quiet – what type of DJ is going to be?! I thought to myself.  I didn’t believe it.  James Madison University is a liberal arts university – we don’t have no DJs coming outta this institution.  She was in the honor’s program – where was going to be in a DJ in Harrisonburg?

I dismissed her dreams as a fleeting statement.

Boy…did she prove me wrong. 

Over the course of the next four years, she made a name for herself.  Her alias was DJ Peachez.  She DJed almost every party in the African American community, on campus, off campus and even had her own radio show on the campus radio station.  I still couldn’t believe it. 

But she didn’t need my belief or my approval to continue her dream. Pretty soon – her skills became a fact.  I could go through countless stories of her proving to our campus over and over again, that she was the premier DJ at JMU.  Most of the new students didn’t know otherwise – she was always DJ Peachez to them.

Fast forward to after graduation, I was in my hometown of Richmond Virginia and I heard the radio announce the DJ Peachez show and my mouth hung wide open.  WHAT?!?! I can’t believe she’s on the radio with all of the hometown radio personalities I grew up listening too! Peachez is on Power 92.1?!

All I could think is – GO GIRL!

I was proud.  She had turned me into a believer.

Every time I was riding home to Richmond VA for my new home in the DC Metro Area, I would turn on the radio and see if I could hear Peachez on the radio.  I think my now husband got so tired of me telling him the story.  “Baby, you hear this girl on the radio?! She went to JMU and…” I would tell him this same story I’m typing right now.  “You wouldn’t believe it, because she was so quiet and so sweet and nice and NOW she’s on the radio – I have to show you her facebook page, she has pictures with all of these famous celebrities….” and I would go on and on.

In April of 2007, she and I talked on the phone for about 15 -20 minutes, because she had a music opportunity for one of our college friends and I was looking over a lot of her legal/contract/managerial stuff at the time.  As she told me about the opportunity, I was amazed at the quiet girl, who was long gone.  She talked excitedly to me on the phone, “Hi Erika! Let me give you the information!” and she rambled off a series of numbers, emails and addresses.  Then she said, “Yes, I always try to look out for fellow JMU graduates you know!?” and I was like, “That’s awesome, you are doing it girl! I heard you on the radio!!” and I told her I was in awe.  She laughed and we finished up the conversation. 

I was DJ Peachez fan 🙂

I followed her on Twitter and “watched” her grind out going to the studio, most recently – studying for the LSAT, making mixtapes, promoting parties and posting twitpics of her and famous celebrities. 

 *Picture courtesy of www.thisIs50.com

(DJ Peachez and 50 Cent pictured above.)

And all I could say is, GO GIRL!

When I found out she was ill this week…and then that she passed away the day before Thanksgiving.  I was overcome with grief.  Why would this happen to someone like this?! So positive, SO YOUNG, so humble, so sweet, so dedicated to her dream?! Why would God allow this? We’re the same age…she had so much life left in her!  I was numb with my initial thoughts…

But I remembered, we must always trust God, in the midst of the pain, hurt, tears and confusion.  And so I tried to find  peace in the situation.  I reflected on our college years and I knew the week wouldn’t end before I wrote them down, somewhere…

I think my sister may have given me my biggest revelation.  I was telling her the above story, just reflecting and she interjected and said, “AND SHE DID IT! She accomplished her dream.  How many of us can say that?”

And I was floored. She DID do it.  She said she wanted to be a DJ and she DID IT! How many of us can say that at 27 years old? In something as fickle as the music business? That you actually did what you accomplished and set out to do?!

And I was proud again.  She did it…..she did it. I kept telling myself over and over.

And as I thought about the fact that she had done it…a peace came over me. 

I was reminded about a JMU Homecoming I went to after I graduated.  DJ Peachez was on the ones and twos.  And the MC of the show told her to play this songs, which was one of the hottest songs out at the time.

I remember Peachez was glammed up, in the front of the Wilson Hall auditorium with her equipment, and she dropped the song and everyone in the crowd went crazy…

and now as I write this..I smile and sing along with them, like I did that night…

Go DJ, that’s my DJ….Go DJ, that’s my DJ…

May you rest in sweet, sweet peace – I will never forget you.

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