Earlier this year, Tyler Junior College sophomore Jameson Black heard whispers on campus about a new transfer scholarship for TJC students to attend Southern Methodist University.
“SMU was always my dream college, but I never thought I would go there,” he said. “They not only have world-class academics but also for me the best theatre department of any university in the state. I was always told it was too expensive. Even at the beginning of my second year at TJC, I never thought it would happen.”
Black, a theatre major from Ferris, earned his Associate of Arts degree in May 2023.
Around the same time, TJC and SMU formally announced the new scholarship, made possible by an endowment gift from Ann and Brad Brookshire, of Tyler.
When SMU launched its $1.5 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign, “SMU Ignited: Boldly Shaping Tomorrow,” SMU alumna and TJC trustee Ann Brookshire and her husband, Brad Brookshire, an SMU alumnus and member of the SMU Board of Trustees, were inspired to develop a transfer scholarship for deserving TJC students.
“When SMU announced the capital campaign, it was to address transfer students, first-generation and minority students — and we have all of those students at TJC,” Ann Brookshire said. “The potential for someone to further their education at SMU and have the benefit of being in Dallas — was limitless.”
On a mission
Black became laser-focused on learning everything he could about the scholarship and application process.
“It was so new, and there wasn’t a lot of information out there yet,” he said.
At a campus event, he introduced himself to TJC President Dr. Juan E. Mejia and asked if he could receive guidance on how to strengthen his application to SMU for acceptance, and for a recommendation letter that could be included with his application.
Jameson Black takes the stage in Theatre TJC’s production of Mary Zimmerman’s mythic play, “Metamorphoses.”
“Dr. Mejia was extremely kind and helpful,” he said. “He actually said he would expedite the recommendation letter and, within a few days, gathered additional information from me. Once the letter was complete, I submitted it to SMU. I really do think that was the biggest part of me receiving this most prestigious scholarship.”
Black is proud to be the first Brookshire Scholarship recipient — and, looking back at the past five years of his young life, he’s still somewhat bewildered that it’s really happening.
In 2019, when he was still in high school, a “big event” — on which he declines to elaborate at this time — occurred that rendered him homeless.
“For about a year after that event, I was living in my car,” he said. “I was still going to school, but I didn’t tell the school what had happened. The alternative was just to do nothing. So, I was going to school, sleeping in my car or staying on friends’ couches, getting haircuts from family friends, and just getting by any way I could.”
During his senior year, a school administrator took him in.
“She helped me get the homeless status on my record, which helped me get different fees waived,” he said. “I stayed with her between my semesters of high school and TJC, and between semesters after I came to TJC.”
In high school, Black was active in theatre but hadn’t considered it as a profession.
“Originally, I was going to follow a law path,” he said, “but COVID happened, and I had a lot of time to think about things that I wanted, so I decided to pursue theatre. Also, my theatre teacher in high school, Curri Hairston, had attended TJC, so I decided I would attend here.”
An actor prepares
At TJC, Black immersed himself in every possible aspect of the theatre program.
“With this being a two-year program, they’re focused on making transfer students out of everybody — and they have a stellar record with that,” he said. “There are lot of great instructors and staff, including Denise Weatherly-Green, Jacob Davis, Dr. David Crawford, Lara Smith and Becky Faulds, so I had a lot to build on.”
His work-study job on campus included doing technical work behind the scenes.
“I was a scenic carpenter, a theatrical electrician, and I did some costuming,” he said. “I worked under [TJC professor] Denise Weatherly-Green in the costume room; and while I’m not great with a sewing machine, I can make a garment that fits on someone. Better than what I could do a year ago.
“I can also build platforms and standard walls, so whenever I go to SMU and I’m working in that shop, I’ll have the skills to do that.”
Jameson Black (right) appears in Theatre TJC’s production of “The Glencairn Sea Plays,” a collection of works by Eugene O’Neill. Also pictured is Timothy Wright, of Longview.
TJC also afforded him plenty of time on stage, honing his acting chops.
“In high school, you’re thinking about other things and not really focused; but getting here and having them really teach me how to act and learn the nuances that I’d never even thought of was eye-opening,” he said. “You don’t know what you don’t know, so they really showed us what we needed to know to get us ready for the next step.”
In the lobby of the Wise Cultural Arts building is a wall of oversized publicity photos from current and past TJC theatre productions.
“This past spring, I was in a show that was a compilation of three plays by Eugene O’Neill; so, for that photo, I was in three different pictures,” he said. “Over my two years here, I’m in six photos on that wall. I’m pretty proud of that.”
The next stage
Asked if he feels prepared to take on the rigors of the SMU theatre program, Black gives a confident nod.
“Their faculty and staff are the best of the best,” he said. “They have experts in every little thing, and there are experimental classes trying to see the new age of theatre, which are the things that will come during my career.”
Post-SMU, Black hopes to spend a few years doing regional theatre work in Texas and Seattle and then, hopefully, make his way to New York.
Wherever life takes him, Black knows he’ll be fine.
“I’ve learned that — with a little bit of moxie — if you really want it, you can get it. But you have to really want it,” he said.
“Anyone in any position can achieve their goal. I know that sounds so broad, but I was homeless in high school and then I came here. Even here, I felt financially overwhelmed and really wasn’t sure I could go to school after this. I just didn’t know what to do. But once I heard of this scholarship, I was really blessed with how kind and generous our communities are, especially the Brookshire family, in my case.
“I really want to thank the Brookshire family, and I want them to know that this theatre child is very grateful for this opportunity to attend the school of my dreams — a dream that I never thought could be possible.”