The Deep Blue Ridge: Bouncer, boxing coach inspires community through spoken word poetry

After losing both parents by age 10, Juice turned to poetry to heal. Now, he uses his testimony to encourage others through deep messages

ROANOKE, Va. – A Roanoke man with a tough exterior, but a larger-than-life personality and a heart of gold is sharing deep words of motivation through spoken word in the Commonwealth.

He goes by Juice, and he is known for bouncing downtown on the weekends.

Juice (WSLS)

“My first bouncing job was in New York,” Juice said. “I was hooked up with a jo when I was 18. They were like, ‘You a big dude. You look like you could pick up a car,’” he laughed. “‘Do you want to work for us?’ I am like, ‘Yes, sure!’”

He laughed while discussing some of the encounters he’s had since working here 13 years ago.

“Oh my gosh, we have seen everything! We have seen people run around downtown butt-naked,” he laughed. “We have seen people get mad at the scooter when it wasn’t working and they will beat up the scooter. Then there is the classic, ‘caught the wife or husband in the street’ and that is always a funny thing to watch. Like, ‘How you going to clear that up buddy,’ he joked.

With a laugh the sound of a lion’s roar, Juice is known for his positive energy.

Juice (WSLS)
Juice (WSLS)
Juice (WSLS)

“It is all about energy,” he said. “I like making sure people know I am not just shucking and jiving. I really care about breaking bread with them. Everybody knows that when they see me, they have a chance to smile because Juice is going to make me smile or laugh or something. For example, whenever I start bouncing, I will start an argument about Harry Potter or Duck Tails and have people laughing. It is all to ease the tension so people will know they could literally let your guard down just a little and say, ‘Ok, he looks like a big monster but all he wants to do is have everyone feeling safe and comfortable.’”

This gift of engaging with people comes from Juice being a wordsmith in poetry.

It is something he said has been the center of his universe since he was 12 years old.

“I remember I was listing to a group called ‘Public Enemy,’ and I was trying to write a poem and my sister came up to me and asked what I knew about the African flag and the culture and stuff like that. The next day, she bought me this book. ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.’ I read it and that was the first time I cried reading someone’s poetry. Then I studied Dr. Mya Angelo and Edgar Allen Poe, all these beautiful poets that moved mountains and shaped the universe. Now, when my sister hears me speak in a normal conversation, she said she can hear the poet in me when I talk,” he laughed.

Juice said he picked his first mic up and took his talents to the stage when he was 14 and the rest is history.

Juice (WSLS)

Today, he continues to host shows and do spoken word about some of the deepest topics.

“I write about inspiration,” he said. “How to accept yourself. How to breathe again. How to love yourself again. How to be brave. How to be brave when you are going on a new adventure. How to see yourself beautiful. How to maintain not just your sanity but your soul in a world that won’t like you for you being you.”

The wisdom of Juice’s words came from him having to grow up early as a child.

Sadly, before he was a teenager, he lost both of his parents.

“Juice started when I was really 10 years old,” he said. “My mom went back to the essence, or passed away, when I was 8 years old. I lost her to cancer. Then my father died when I was 10. My mind went to being independent. It was a rough life as a kid of course. I grew p in the ghettos and never took that for granted.”

Juice said he credits the strong man he is today to being raised by strong women.

Juice (WSLS)
Juice (WSLS)
Juice (WSLS)

“My sisters and aunts,” he said. “They instilled in me to keep going no matter what. To look out for the little guy and family to the best of your ability. Voice your opinion. You may be a little chubby kid, but you have a lot to say. You may be tired, but you still have a lot to do. You take that and 30 plus years, that is where juice developed.”

Something else that was instilled in Juice was a warrior-like complex given to him by his father who was a professional boxer.

“If I am correct, he had 42 wins and only three losses,” Juice said. “He was born and raised in Chicago. They called him Lee the Giant Killer Smith because he was a very powerful and muscular man. He used to train us when we were children.”

He said his father died doing what he loved.

“Back in the day, boxers used to have this thought that the more sweat, the more muscles you can produce so they would cover themselves in plastic. My father ran 14 miles in 90-degree weather. Seven miles one way, seven miles back, and then died from a heat stroke. But he got to his destination,” Juice said.

Juice (WSLS)
Juice (WSLS)
Juice (WSLS)

Because of that, Juice almost gave up boxing.

“I told myself that I would never box, but I guess my dad instilled a warrior in me,” he said.

Juice went on to teach her nieces and nephews the skill of boxing and he would have himself a few matches in the ring.

Fast forward to today, Juice is now a boxing coach teaching students at the Kirk’s Family YMCA on Church Avenue every Saturday.

“I teach it just so they can deal with life,” he said. “When life knocks them down, they will still have that discipline and they can get it all out. I teach them, not so they can go beat someone up or anything like that. There is one entity out here that is forever the champion. The undisputed champion and that is life. It can knock you down, but life is fair and if you get knocked down for not being humble but get back up with a strong humble heart, I’ve seen it, it will reward you.”

Juice (WSLS)
Juice (WSLS)
Juice (WSLS)

He said you must fight for what you love.

“You can either fight for your life or you can blow in the wind and nowadays,” he said. “There is no choice. Speaking from a warrior’s standpoint, you have to fight, if not for yourself, the special person you love. Fight for your children and for the existence of just trying to be a decent human being. A lot of people don’t fight for that anymore, but I do.”

Juice shares that sentiment with his fellow spoken word artists and the deep relationships he says have made him into the man he is today.

“Spoken word is not for the faint of heart,” he said. “My artists will say you are naked to the world behind the mic. You are going to give out your soul, malice, happiness, hate, gladness, your sadness, your bravery, your fear. Everything is now being presented to at least 60 percent of the room that you don’t know.”

Juice, along with other hosts and members, runs different spoken word groups that host shows throughout our area. They are called, Rooftop Serenade, Soul Serenity, Memoirs of the Moonlight, and Juicy After Dark.

“It will wear you out, but it is worth it,” he said. “Because a lot of people are seeking somewhere to go to feel safe and to feel good. That is the thing about a Juice show. I demand positive energy. I demand positive energy. I will grab you and say let’s dance or get people up and moving and having fun. And then by the end of it, people are sweating and having fun and tired, but you can see 20 pounds have lifted off their shoulders. That is what does it for me.”

Juice (WSLS)

Going throughout his life, Juice has made it his mission to positively impact people he encounters so that they too will see that you can overcome anything in life.

“From the age of 10 to now, I have always said I don’t want anybody, whether family friends, or anyone, I don’t want someone to feel alone no matter race, color, or creed,” Juice said. “I came up with this saying, ‘Touch me. Touch one, to heal one, to love one.’ I’ve learned from my sisters and brothers what to do and what not to do. How to say certain things and how to be quiet. How to let someone cry on my shoulder and how to show them the right way. You have the power to turn your trials and tribulations and turn them into trials and triumphs….no matter what.”

About the Author:

Japhanie Gray joined 10 News as an anchor in March 2022.