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  • Writer's pictureVolume 82 Magazine

Kendrick Lamar's Fan Tells How He Helped Her After She Became Paralyzed & Sent Her to the Grammys

Jenn at the 2023 Grammys. Photo/@msj3nn (Instagram)

Jenn is a beautiful person; she’s truly a whole vibe. Here, she shares her story about becoming a quadriplegic, how the Grammy Award-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar helps make her life easier, and how she continues to find joy after being paralyzed.

Volume 82: You have such a great vibe! When I saw you on the Grammys, I said, wow! I need to meet her! Then, I found out we have someone in common.

Jenn: Is it Bear?

Volume 82: Yes! (Bear is a former bodyguard for Top Dawg Entertainment. He used to guard TDE's artists ScHoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar, and SZA). Jenn and Bear met through (TDE).

Volume 82: How did you and Kendrick connect?

Jenn: I first heard of him around 2009 or 2010. There was a group called the Sore Losers, and they had a mixtape called "Freeloaders" that Kendrick was on. Then, Kendrick put out his mixtape "OD," and I became a huge fan!

The first time I saw Kendrick, he was in Dallas for a show. He had a sold-out show at this small club in the Deep Ellum area! I remember showing up early, but the staff let me stay inside once the artists started to arrive. Blue the Great (a DJ and artist) came in with Kendrick and ScHoolboy Q. He stopped to talk to me and asked if I wanted to meet Kendrick, and I said yes. So, he introduced everyone, we took pictures, and they let me sit in for their soundcheck! During the concert, Kendrick waved at me and interacted with me onstage! After that, I continued to attend all his shows in Dallas, and he always acknowledges me when he sees me in the audience. He never forgets his fans! But that’s how I met Kendrick Lamar!

Volume 82: They say Kendrick has a huge heart and is an overall nice guy. What stands out about him?

Jenn: His vulnerability as an artist. He doesn't shy away from artistic things out of fear of how it will make him look. I respect that about him so much. His lyricism has always connected me to his music.

Volume 82: I bet.

Jenn: In 2017, when Kendrick was touring in Dallas, I planned to go to the concert. I wanted to ask him to tweet his fans about my GoFundMe to raise money for a wheelchair-accessible van. (Kendrick learned about the GoFundMe, and his team started working behind the scenes with Jenn’s friend Erika to purchase the van). Erika called me and said Kendrick's doing a documentary in different cities for his superfans and asked if someone could film at my house and I’d be a part of it. Erika was lying and knew about the van! The film crew came and interviewed my mom and me.

I went to the concert as planned, and we had to rent a van to get there. And renting a handicap-accessible van is very expensive. My mom was a single mom of three, and she had just retired from teaching, and my sister was in college then. So, we were trying to figure out how to get a vehicle so I could get around. Anyway, once I got to the concert, they took me backstage, they took pictures of me, and Kendrick gave me a jacket – the jacket read that he wanted to make sure that I was safe riding around the city. At that point, he let me know that he wanted to buy me a van. And the next day, Dave Free (Kendrick’s manager) called my mom. Although Kendrick was touring then, he was hands-on with the whole situation. When I found vans I liked, he wanted to see the vehicle information and make sure it would be a good fit for me.

Jenn and Kendrick

Volume 82: That's wonderful!

Jenn: Yes. I guess I can tell you why I'm in a wheelchair. When I was 20 in 2006, I was in a car accident. I was driving. I had my mom, sister, and brother in the car. We were heading to St. Louis for a family reunion, and I begged my mom to let me drive cause I had just gotten a car – she had just bought me a used car from a family friend. I wanted to get used to driving on the freeway because I was a late driver. I didn't get my license until I was 19. But I was trying to pass up an 18-wheeler and freaked out thinking that it was coming into my lane. I jerked the steering wheel a little bit and tried to go into the grass that was in the middle of the freeway, but I didn't realize the grass was high. I flipped the car a few times, broke my neck and spinal cord, and became quadriplegic.

I was initially paralyzed from the shoulders down – like I could only shrug my shoulders a little. They sedated me for about a week, and I had a halo. I was on a ventilator. I had the trachea tube in my neck. I had a feeding tube and the works! The doctors thought I was going to be in the ICU for six months. They thought I would be on a ventilator for the rest of my life. They thought I wouldn't move anything below my shoulders. But within three weeks, I was off the ventilator and out of the ICU, and within probably the next month, I was moving my arms. I can't move my hands. I do have bicep muscles, but I don't have tricep muscles. And I can move my wrists one way. I can do a lot on my own.

I’ve done all these things the doctors told me I couldn't do. I returned to school. It was in July when I had my accident, and I didn't go back to school that fall semester, but I returned during the spring semester. I did online classes with my mom's help. In December 2009, I got a bachelor's degree in marketing.

Volume 82: Really? Congratulations!

Jenn: Thank you! Of course, I still use the chair. My mom's my main caregiver. But I don't let it stop me. I do more since being in the wheelchair than I did before. I have to do things in different ways. I've gone skiing!

Volume 82: Really?

Jenn: They have this place in Colorado. I’ve been skiing there before. There are places around America that have [accessible facilities]. I've gone jet-skiing a couple of times. I've gone on different boats, and I've gone tubing. I've been to Vegas a few times. I've been to Disney World and -I've been on the rides, they're usually kiddy rides, but it works!

Volume 82: That's awesome. You're still living and moving forward. You seem like you're very happy and resilient. What does a typical day look like for you?

Jenn: I don't really use my degree. I'm a peer mentor. I was one of the first mentors at Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation. I'm on the committee for a spinal cord injuries support group. I help plan our monthly meetings and events. I'm also a certified Reeve Foundation peer mentor (the foundation was created after the actor Christopher Reeve who starred as Superman became paralyzed). I do public speaking. I'm always willing to speak. After the accident, I said that God left me my mouth for a reason. I'm going to talk, tell my story, and try to help people. I attend a lot of concerts, that's something I still enjoy. Even before the accident, I was a music person. I have always been since I was a little kid. I'm going to see SZA next month.

Volume 82: Oh yeah! I can't wait to see her in concert.

Jenn: She's the sweetest. Have you met her?

Volume 82: I haven't met SZA! I met Bear after he was done working for TDE.

Jenn: They are all cool people!

Volume 82: I love TDE! I noticed the photo of you and SZA on your Instagram too! It looked like the two of you were having a really good time.

Jenn: Yeah. She's very sweet. She'll talk to you for like thirty minutes after she's done a two-hour concert. When I was at the Grammys, I didn't get to talk to her. She didn't even know I was there until I was on stage. But I did get to see her manager Amber and one of the other bodyguards, El. They saw me when they were going backstage.

Volume 82: I'm sure you'll be forever connected to them. It was awesome how the Grammys incorporated you. How did that work out?

Jenn: It was so strange. I got a DM from Sounwave, Kendrick’s producer. He's produced a lot of Kendrick's music... He DM'd me on Monday the 23rd of January. He said, "Someone from pgLang wants to contact you about something with Dot (Kendrick's moniker). Can I get your number?” I said yes. Then, later that evening, someone called me and asked if they could fly me to L.A. that weekend and the weekend after that, and it was like four days away! (At first, I didn't know it was about the Grammys.) Then, they sent me an email survey about being a Grammy superfan and asked me not to say anything to anyone. They had someone come to our home to give us a Covid-19 test on Thursday then that Friday we were on a plane!

Volume 82: That's awesome! Did they bring you on as a Grammy superfan?

Jenn: Yes. I believe they contacted Kendrick's people about it, and Kendrick or Dave Free (Kendrick's manager) gave the Grammys my name and asked them to contact me. They flew us out and put us up in a nice historic hotel. The next day we met everyone else and filmed the roundtable discussion. It was cool. Sunday, they did my solo interview, and they flew us back to Dallas, and we flew back out the next Saturday. The experience still feels surreal right now!

Volume 82: I bet! Unbelievable.

Jenn: Like I said, every time I see him, he's nice to me, and even with the Grammys, he thought of my name. The fact that he still thought of me shows what type of person he is. He remembers people who have been down for a long time. He's just a genuine person. You can tell, especially with ‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’ album, it may not have been something that people wanted; it may not be the new "Alright." He didn't give us a new ‘To Pimp a Butterfly.’ We needed something that talked about breaking generational curses and helping ourselves.

Volume 82: Right!

Jenn: He said he's not our savior but still tries to help the community. Sometimes, it's like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders; it's like he tries to help everybody. He's an empath in a way; he wants to help everybody.

Volume 82: I like a lot of his music. "Crown" is one of my favorite songs from ‘Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers.’ What's one of your favorite songs from that album?

Jenn: It's "Mirrors." What made it my favorite was seeing it performed live. With this album, he needed to focus on himself, just like all of us. He was going through the pandemic (Covid-19) just like us.

Volume 82: What are your top three Kendrick Lamar tracks?

Jenn: In general, his whole discography?

Volume 82: Yes!

Jenn: Goodness! They are probably older songs. "Faith" is one. He has a line that says, "Try to change your life, and now you live in a wheelchair!" And so when I first heard that song, I said, wow! So that's my favorite. Then, there's a song that's not on his album, but it's on BJ The Chicago Kid's album, called "His Pain II." It talks about getting blessed to bless others. I think I was blessed to survive the accident and keep my mouth so I can bless others and share my story. Then, my favorite song of his is either "Sing About Me I'm Dying of Thirst" or "Mother I Sober;" it's a tie between those two.

Volume 82: I have another question for you. Do you feel like you inspire a lot of people?

Jenn: I've been told I do. Sometimes, you never know how living your daily life can inspire people simply by staying alive and smiling. You may not try to inspire somebody, but sometimes it just happens. My cousin recently passed this past year, and she would call me her shero. But she was going through so many different illnesses, cancer and lupus, and everything. I always felt weird about her calling me that because I wondered what she saw in me that made me her shero. So, you never know who you inspire.

Volume 82: I'm very sorry about the loss of your cousin. That's true. You never know who you inspire! You actually inspire me! Considering your circumstances, what keeps you going every day?

Jenn: My faith and God. My family and just knowing that I'm still here. My life didn't end when I had that accident. I'm still here almost 17 years later. I can still do things. Just because I'm in a chair and there are many different roadblocks in the world doesn't mean I can't find a way to get past them and keep doing my thing. I ended up at the Grammys. I never would have thought I would end up there in a million years! I didn't let the fact that I'm in a chair keep me from going! I have to know there's a way, and people are watching me. My little cousins, nieces, and nephews are watching me! And, like you said, you saw something in me; you never know who you're inspiring. I have to keep going.

Volume 82: It sounds like the right group of celebrities found you, and you all have a genuine connection.

Jenn: I've met so many people from TDE and pgLang, and every one of them has been so nice and genuine. Bear when I first met him gave me a big hug. I've met Top, and I've met Moosa, all of them, Punch… Every time I see them, they are so nice and sweet. It's just an amazing group of people, and I'm grateful for it! With a life like this, it can be easy not to be happy and not find joy because you can't do certain things you used to be able to do. So, when you find people like this, it makes life more exciting and joyful. And I didn't meet them because I'm in a wheelchair; it all happened organically through music, the power of music, and the love of music.

Volume 82: That's awesome!

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Related Stories: To read about TDE's former bodyguard "Bear," click here.



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