What’s it like growing up Black and brown in a predominantly white town? Joe Sparkman and Julián Esteban Torres López share their experiences of growing up together in the 1990s as teenagers in Nashua, New Hampshire.
If you are a fan of the show The Office, you may know that Nashua is the location of one of Dunder Mifflin’s branches—the very branch where Holly Flax was working out of before she got transferred to the Scranton branch.
Others may be familiar with Nashua as having been the place where JFK launched his presidential campaign at the steps of City Hall.
Or, maybe you heard that Nashua was ranked both in 1987 and 1997 by Money magazine as the best place to live in the United States.
Some of you may even know the obscure fact that Nashua was one of the only places in the country (if not the only place, period) where you could find triangular manhole covers covering most of the city’s sewer connections.
Others may remember the Good Will Hunting scene where Will tells Sean during his therapy session that he wants “to move up to Nashua, get a nice little spread, get some sheep and tend to them.” I remember being in Nashua watching this movie when it came out and everyone in the movie theatre just looked at each other and started laughing with pride, even though the movie was actually making fun of our city.
For me, however, my favorite historical fact was that the Nashua Dodgers—a farm club of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s—is believed to be the first professional baseball team based in the United States in the twentieth century to play with a racially integrated roster. The team was based at Holman Stadium in Nashua, New Hampshire, the very stadium that hosted my high school graduation ceremony in 1999. The very same stadium where Joe Sparkman and I used to play football together.
Yet, despite Nashua having the history of hosting the first racially integrated U.S. team in modern baseball, the racism in Nashua in the 1990s was still very much alive when Joe Sparkman and I moved to the city to attend Jr. High School and Sr. High School together.
So what it was it really like growing up as Black and brown in New Hampshire in the 1990s in a predominantly white state and a city that saw itself as racially progressive? That’s what this episode unpacks. And to dig in, I invited one of my oldest and closest friends, Joe Sparkman, to join me for the conversation.
Joe Sparkman is an inspiration to others and has been one of the reasons why The Nasiona flourished in the first place. Back in the mid-1990s, when Joe and I were classmates in 8th grade together, Joe gave me my first social justice awakening. In this episode, along with forthcoming episodes, I want to humanize The Nasiona by introducing you to the behind the scenes conversations we have with each other here, and to the people who have made The Nasiona possible.
Joe Sparkman joined the team last year to become our podcast’s music producer, and this year he is helping us to officially make our transition into becoming a non-profit organization. In light of this, I wanted to re-introduce you to one of The Nasiona’s visionaries.
Given that Joe and I have a friendship nearing three decades, I thought it’d be worthwhile to give you a glimpse into the kinds of situations that give rise to activists and social justice warriors like myself and Joe.
Joe Sparkman and I spoke in July of 2020. This is the 1st part or our 3-part conversation.
Joe Sparkman decided to follow his dreams in music after he got his multiple sclerosis diagnosis. He started working with Ne-Yo and went on to produce several prominent artists, such as Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Joe, Snoop, Christina Milian, Heather Headley, Emeli Sandé, Nicole Scherzinger, Missy Elliott, Prince Royce, among others. He won several awards: Grammy, ASCAP Award, multiple Platinum and Gold plaques, and an African Music Award. After his music career, he continued to dream big and co-founded a million-dollar medical and pharmaceutical company (Medsav). He’s currently an advisor to the board at Roche and The Adira Foundation, a district activist leader for the National MS Society, a member of the Government Relations Advisory Committee, and during the 2020 elections the Georgia Democrats delegated Joe as a precinct chairman. As The Nasiona Podcast‘s music producer, Joe returned to his musical roots, and now he’s taking on a bigger leadership role as we take The Nasiona into the next phase so we can more effectively center, elevate, and amplify the personal stories of those Othered by dominant cultures and systems of oppression.
Julián Esteban Torres López (he/him/his/él) is a bilingual, Colombia-born storyteller and culture architect with Afro-Euro-Indigenous roots. For two decades, Julián has worked toward humanizing those Othered by oppressive systems and dominant cultures. He is the creator of the social justice storytelling movement The Nasiona, where he also hosts and produces The Nasiona Podcast. He’s a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions nominee; a Trilogy Award in Short Fiction finalist; a McNair Fellow; and the author of Marx’s Humanism and Its Limits and Reporting On Colombia. His poetry collection, Ninety-Two Surgically Enhanced Mannequins, is available now. His work appears in PANK Magazine, Into the Void Magazine, The Acentos Review, Novus Literary and Arts Journal, Havik 2021: Inside Brilliance, among others. Julián holds a bachelor’s in philosophy and in communication and a master’s in justice studies from the University of New Hampshire and was a Ph.D. candidate at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, where he focused on political science and Latin American studies.
The Nasiona Podcast amplifies the voices and experiences of the marginalized, undervalued, overlooked, silenced, and forgotten, as well as gives you a glimpse into Othered worlds. We focus on stories that explore the spectrum of human experiences—stories based on facts, truth-seeking, human concerns, real events, and real people, with a personal touch. From liminal lives to the marginalized, and everything in between, we believe that the subjective can offer its own reality and reveal truths some facts can’t discover. Hosted, edited, and produced by Julián Esteban Torres López.
Original music for The Nasiona Podcast was produced by the Grammy Award-winning team of Joe Sparkman and Marcus Allen, aka The Heavyweights. Joe Sparkman: Twitter + Instagram. Marcus Allen: Twitter + Instagram.
The Nasiona Magazine and Podcast depend on voluntary contributions from readers and listeners like you. We hope the value of our work to our community is worth your patronage. If you like what we do, please show this by liking, rating, and reviewing us; buying or recommending our books; and by financially supporting our work either through The Nasiona’s Patreon page or through Julián Esteban Torres López‘s Ko-fi donation platform. Every little bit helps.
Thank you for listening and reading, and thank you for your support.