She manages projects, is a writer and has produced some of the world’s greatest events in places like the 02 Arena, but at the heart of it all, she is passionate about the healing of humanity and the art of conversation without all that sugar coating stuff. With authenticity, Jess Mally shares her story in how she met her biological Father and what her passions are.
Tell us a bit about your background, how you grew up, your journey leading to where you are now and also what you do for a living
My background is as diverse and colourful as they come! My Mum was born in Czech Republic where she lived for the first few years of her life. My grandparents moved the family to Germany in the mid-60s to start a new life. So that’s where I grew up. My Dad was a US military and African American. My parents weren’t married, and my Dad left shortly after I was born so I grew up a black kid in a very white, very German world with little idea of where I was from. My Mum did the best she could and my grandparents were absolute heroes helping my Mum raise us.
In 2009 after I graduated from high school, I suffered a mental break down and by the end of that year I knew something had to change and that it would have to be significant. It was on a short spontaneous holiday to London that I decided to quit university, leave my job and start over in this city I had fallen in love with.
I didn’t have a degree, I wasn’t sure where I stood in my faith, let alone organized religion and I had NO clue what I wanted to do going forward. I was reluctant to go to church the first few months I was here but eventually realized that without the community I had known from church in the past, I would very quickly go off the rails. After going to a few different churches I ended up walking through the doors of Hillsong Church. I was incredibly suspicious of all things ‘Mega church’ and if it hadn’t been for what I then perceived to be the voice of God I would’ve probably never gone. I had so many nevers: I never wanted to be part of a church again; I never wanted to volunteer and most certainly never ever wanted to be on a church staff again. 9 years later, I have just reached my seventh year on staff at Hillsong Church and they were truly the best 7 years of my life. I have recently resigned from my position and am about to embark on that freelance life. You’ll hopefully come across more of my writing and will also find me producing live events and shows, project managing creative projects and consulting for start-ups in the creative industry.
Talk to us about what growing up without a Father was like for you?
Growing up without a Father was difficult in many different ways. There’s the obvious one which has followed me into my adult years – the lack of a male voice in my life, the affirmation and security we are meant to get from our Fathers and the relationship that helps us build healthy relationships with men later on in life. For me that wasn’t the biggest thing though. The real thing was the lack of connection to my roots. Throughout the most part of my childhood and teenage years I was the only black kid, which added more weight on the usual growing up struggles and it probably wasn’t until I moved to London that I started having real friendships with other people of colour. So that disconnect played a massive role in who I ended up becoming and in the things that move me today. Not only did I not have anyone around who looked like me, I didn’t know anything about where my Dad – and therefore I – was from. Where in the States did he grow up? Were my ancestors slaves? Where did my ‘blackness’ come from. So many of those things were often assumed by my peers and I probably took on certain things to fulfil their expectations, but in reality, I never really knew. And that lack of identity was probably the biggest challenge.
Talk to us about the journey to meeting your Father and what that was like for you
Oh wow. Well, I’ll be cheeky and point people to my blog for all the juicy details I wrote and published a 5 part series about the journey on there. In a nutshell, I had always wanted to find my Dad, so I could yell at him and call him all the names for leaving me. The older I got however; it became less about that but about finding out about my roots and discovering my heritage. Around 2011 – I had been in London for about a year and was seeing a counsellor at the time, when I really felt like I wanted to go for it. I wanted to get a private investigator to try and find him, but felt a very strong ‘no’ in my gut and knew somewhere deep down that ‘now’ wasn’t the right time.
Fast forward to 2018, I spent a couple of weeks on holiday in New York at the start of the year. Once again, like so often over the course of my life, I felt so drawn to all things African American history and longed to know more about where I was from. On my way back from the trip I had made up my mind – and this time I sensed a resounding YES from heaven when I wrote the words into my journal: This year I will find my Dad.
I returned home and was determined to get started straight away – only to remember I had no new information about him, so I started googling private investigators and reaching out to others who have tried finding lost family members before but nothing led anywhere. Until one day, I found myself in a casual conversation with a friend and by the end of the conversation we realized that both our Fathers were stationed in Germany at the same time in the same city. I couldn’t believe it! I asked her to check with her Dad and see if he may have known mine…a day later I received the phone call: Not only did her Dad remember mine; he actually had the means to help me find him.
My mind was blown. By this point I was certain that what I perceived to be divine timing was indeed that. By May 2018 I had a PDF attachment in my email inbox, holding my father’s phone number, address and everything else I needed. After asking a close friend to make the first call on my behalf it was confirmed. I had found my Dad. From there my church community really came through. Before I knew it, friends and colleagues had put money together so I could fly over and meet my him.
August 27th 2018 was the day I met my dad for the first time. To be honest the whole journey there was an emotional rollercoaster. I found out so much about my parents relationship, found out that certain things I had believed to be true my whole life weren’t and some of those things felt like a rug was pulled from under my feet. I found out I have another 6 brothers and sisters whom I got to meet on that trip in August. It’s been the best but also the most intense experience of my life.
Do you feel that meeting your father has changed your life for the better?
Yes and yes again. I believe I am still very much at the beginning of getting to know him as a person, but the family I have gained already – brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, cousins, aunties, uncles – the lot! – makes all the ups and downs of the journey worth it. I would say that again the immediate benefits weren’t even particularly about him, but they were more about the connection to my heritage, the confirmation of things I had held in my heart over the course of my life and discovering a new and deeper connection to myself.
What advice would you give to anyone who is trying to connect with an absent Father?
Firstly I would say that everyone’s story is different. The way mine ended was incredibly unprecedented and although I would encourage them to pursue it, after all the amazing things, I suffered a severe break down in the fall of last year. Finding Dad wasn’t the only trigger, but it certainly played a massive role. In hindsight I would definitely say that I should’ve had professional guidance throughout the whole process. I only started seeing a therapist weeks after I came back from the trip and I think if I had walked this with someone I would’ve maybe spared myself the break down and depression that followed. So go for it, but don’t do it by yourself. And don’t expect others to understand. Like I said, I have the most incredible community and yet I had to realize that unless you have experienced something like this, you can’t understand what it’s like. Again, that’s where having a therapist helped because it actually made sure I protected my existing relationships and didn’t expect the impossible from those around me.
How do you navigate through the challenges of life?
I would say my faith, though ever changing and evolving, has been the constant in my life. My relationship with God, prayer, meditation, my relationship to the bible, journaling – you name it. They have been what has been constant in my life throughout what has been a pretty crazy ride so far. As well as that it’s my community. Though I wouldn’t say I have one particular circle of friends, I have a handful of very good, loyal and loving friends who have been with me through so much. So whatever storm has come my way so far – and some have been pretty intense – I have been rooted in these things.
What are you passionate about?
In short, I am passionate about the healing of humanity. I have realized that my faith, my interests, my drive all come from this deep desire to see social change, see the beloved community Dr Martin Luther King speaks of come to pass. I know that sounds crazy and I’m under no illusion that I will get to experience it in my life time, but it is the goal and the prize I have set my mind on. And that passion informs all the other things I am passionate about: Writing, creating experiences and events, empowering women and the next generation, making arts accessible to young people – all the different things I have been involved in and am getting involved in as we speak. Racial justice being right at the top of the list.
We love your blog – What made you start one?
Aw thank you!! I’m so glad people read it ha-ha! I’ve always loved to read and write, have always been passionate about words. I believe that words and stories have the power to help us express ourselves, process life as well as transform the ones who read them. I’ve also always journaled – so in 2015 after spending some time at a retreat in France, I felt that I had gotten to a point where what I was saying could maybe help somebody else too. I also feel that – especially in Christian circles – there is a tendency to sugar coat things. I wanted to create a space where I could be raw and honest and encourage others to do the same.