HYANNIS – Every morning, Jonathan Thompson puts out a short Facebook video and often a different Instagram video, each hilarious or heartwarming or both, about the start of his day and the need to stay positive.
Each video ends with the charismatic, quick-witted Thompson, known seemingly by all as JT, saying, “One love, one family, one community.” The videos are called the “JT Chronicles.”
Watch a few. It’s easy to get hooked by his upbeat keep-it-real personality and infectious smile. Many have.
Through the ether of the internet, the start of Thompson’s workday as a nurse’s aid at Cape Cod Hospital is a quick potent dose of positivity presented by the joyful messenger. The morning videos are often co-hosted by a smiling hospital employee parking lot shuttle bus driver named Bob Basil.
“About seven years ago, I realized he’s serious about his plan to bring everybody together on the Cape.” – Malcolm Smith, longtime friend of Jonathan Thompson.
“About seven years ago, I realized he’s serious about his plan to bring everybody together on the Cape,” said his longtime friend, Malcolm Smith, now a Boston schoolteacher.
Smith has seen Thompson, 50, as an entertainer, MC, concert promoter and television host who has interviewed several national music celebrities.
Thompson is as talented and magnetic as anyone you can name, he said. “He could have expanded his whole thing,” said Smith.
“You give him two months to prepare to host the Oscars or the music awards, like they do anyone else, and he would knock it right out of the park,” said Smith.
Smith said that he has been so convinced of Thompson’s potential to grow into a national entertainment figure that he has urged him several times to try to grow beyond Cape Cod.
That day seven years ago, Smith said he was having one of many conversations he’s had over the years with Thompson about that potential when Thompson said, “I’m going to take care of home first,” recalled Smith.
“I’ll never forget when he said that,” said Smith, who then echoed Thompson’s words: “I want to take care of home first. Home is Cape Cod.”
“I was born and raised on Cape Cod,” said Thompson. “My family is from Cambridge. They moved down here in 1959.”
“My mother worked for Comm Electric and my dad was head custodian at West Barnstable Elementary,” said Thompson, who was born in Hyannis but now lives in Yarmouth, just over the line. “My bedroom is in Hyannis, and my kitchen is in Yarmouth.” he said.
“At that time on the Cape,” said Smith, who has known Thompson since they were both 7 years old in elementary school, “there was a very small percentage of African Americans that were from the Cape. A lot of our families had migrated down here from Boston,” he said.
There were not very many minority kids around, said Smith. Thompson “was just the one everyone gravitated to. Black or white. Everyone wanted to be at his lunch table.”
This was a family characteristic, said Smith. “He’s a chip off the old block. His father was just like him. He reminded me of the comedian Robin Harris. He was just popular. He always had a quick line… His father was a great guy. A great, great guy.”
Thompson said that his father, as custodian of an elementary school, knew generations of people who went through that school. “Everybody called him Mr. T., he said. “When he died, the funeral went three hours over because so many people were there.”
“Jonathan is just like his father,” said Smith. “There’s never a dull moment.”
Thompson recalls an idyllic childhood. “Our neighborhood had two streets, all connected in one big circle. There was a lot of kickball, a lot of football, a lot of baseball,” he said.
Smith said he and Thompson have been friends since they were both 7. They met in the school cafeteria and he remembered Thompson as “always an entertainer.”
“One thing about him, he has always had people gravitate towards him,” said Smith. “He wasn’t looking for it. He just has a real magnetic personality.”
“At that young age, you could see he was a born leader,” said Smith. “He was just the one who always organized things.”
In the 3rd grade, said Smith, he and Thompson and another friend entered a talent show and performed “Boogie Fever” by The Sylvers. “It went real well,” said Smith. “He was the lead singer. He took over the show. We were background.”
Tim Lus, of Hyannis, said he met Thompson “when we were about 8 years old doing a bike-a-thon raising money for the March of Dimes or something.”
“I remember going there by myself after my Dad dropped me off and we just connected. We rode the entire time, just talking. Because of that bike-a-thon, we ended up being friends our entire life.”
Lus remembers Thompson as “a little guy.” Thompson now is 5’4” tall. “Even when he was a little kid, it was the same thing,” said Lus. “He was full of life. He made people laugh. He made me laugh. That’s how he’s been his whole life. He really has a way with people.”
When he was in middle school and junior high, said Thompson, “Roller skating was a thing.”
“It was great,” said Smith. “It was a place where a lot of the minorities, the African Americans kids, got together. Those roller skating days brought all the African American kids out, from 20 years old on down.”
Thompson, said Smith, “got out more than anybody else. He was nocturnal. He could get out every night. And he had this ability to skate, sing, and communicate. He was also very popular with the older kids. We were about 12. They were 16 or 17 years old. Being accepted by the older ones, by that happening, he became our natural leader.”
“He just had that magnetism,” said Smith.
For Thompson, there was a routine to those nights at the skating rink. “First you’d go to the Mall and cut through Jordan Marsh, Filenes. Spray a little cologne on you,” he said.
Then Thompson and his friends would head out to the mid-Cape social scene for kids that age – roller skating.
There was Cape Skate behind Kmart in Hyannis, and Pro Skate where the CVS and new Fire Station are, he said. “There’d be music. You’d want to see the girls. You’d see your boys and hang out,” said Thompson.
“We grew up at a great time. Everything was booming. Roller skating. New Edition. Everything.” – Jonathan Thompson
But it was much more than a boy-meets-girl scene. It was a scene all in its own.
“We grew up at a great time,” said Thompson. “Everything was booming. Roller skating. New Edition. Everything.”
When the singing group New Edition came to the Cape, they came to skating rink.
A Friday or Saturday night was not just going in circles skating. There were groups, performances. “We saw groups like the Boston Rollers performing dance routines like the Temptations. They had matching jackets. We were amazed. We thought, we need to do that.”
And so he and other friends did start a group, and they were good. This was about the time that break dancing first became big and the skaters were essentially break-dancing on skates, he said.
“We were like the reigning champs,” said Thompson. We could do windmills, all sorts of stuff.”
There were break-dancing contests too. “They had sky-rocketing popularity,” said Smith. “These Cape kids winning break dance contests. They could compete city-wide, East Coast-wide, nationwide.”
And then, said Thompson, there was a lip synch contest on teen night at Pufferbellies when “five us got together and performed New Edition. We practiced it like was real. If you are going to do something, you do it to the best of your ability and then some. That was our whole work ethic. We practiced after school like you read about.”
“My father would see us practicing, watching the other one doing it, and critique each other. My father told us, ‘You don’t look good at all.’ But by the time show time came, we killed it.”
The show was hosted by a celebrity DJ who asked after the show, which they won, “Can you all sing?”
They could learn. “At that time, you only needed two people to be able to sing.”
Young Generation, the self-described “boy band” that Thompson was in, started out as a lip synch group. “Lip synching was a thing. There was even a show on TV.”
They performed all over New England, and then “it became a bit more serious. We recorded a song called, ‘Be My Baby Love,’” said Thompson.
They performed at the Strand Theater in Boston. They performed at the same shows that also featured a band called Nanook, who would soon change their name to New Kids On The Block. They became friends, said Thompson.
Thompson recalls hearing Jordan Knight, lead singer with New Kids On The Block, “sing a song by the Stylistics, with a falsetto and thinking, Damn, this boy can sing.”
Thompson said his band hung out in Sandwich with New Kids and Debbie Gibson, riding mopeds and having fun. They were at the house of a person they knew from the music industry, he said.
“We were close to making it,” said Thompson. Young Generation was headlining their own shows, he said. There were sellouts of nightclubs, he said.
“It was arms pumping, hips thrusting, throwing kisses and all that,” said Thompson. “We had so much fun.”
“The singing group he was in was pretty popular,” said Lus, who was an athletic star in the high school and was eventually elected to the Hall of Fame. Lus is president of the Barnstable Athletic Hall of Fame. “Everybody knew who those guys were,” he said.
The band made, in retrospect, a fatal career mistake. They did not follow or even know the specific directions of someone with a lot of power in the music business. The man had flown into Boston from the West Coast.
“He flew in to see us perform,” said Thompson. All we were supposed to do was go out and do our single,” he said. “He wanted to see us perform it and see the crowd reaction,” he said.
“We didn’t know that. A medley is what we did. He got upset. He mouthed, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ Then he walked out.” recalled Thompson.
“Our manager was pissed off. He came in the dressing room at the end of the show screaming at us,” said Thompson.
Until that moment, he said, “We thought we were going to be huge.”
The group broke up. It was Thompson’s senior year at Barnstable High School.
“It was crushing,” said Thompson. “You have so many people telling you, ‘You guys are about to be huge.’ I was thinking about all these things that were about to happen to me. All the things I was going to be able to buy my parents.”
He was around other celebrities his age for whom it did happen. “And then it didn’t happen,” he said. Thompson said feeling was “like that one guy standing there after the final play of Super Bowl he thought his team was going to win but they somehow lost. “It’s like, What the hell just happened?”
His mother had an explanation. “God has another plan for you,” she said.
Thompson remembered protesting, “Yeah, but this was supposed to be it.”
His mother told him to “keep believing and pushing forward and doing what you love.”
He got into “another group for a bit. We did some things, had some fun, did some shows, but it wasn’t on the same level as I just did.”
On the other hand, he said, “There are so many ugly situations that happen in the music business… People are nickeling and diming you. It’s a hard business. But I love the passion of it.”
After high school, Thompson took a couple of different retail jobs, managing a clothing store and an athletic shoe store. He was also organizing dances and putting shows together. It was a different part of the entertainment world, and he loved it.
“He kept himself in that business,” said Lus. “It paved the way for what he does now.”
In the early 1990s, said Thompson, Cape Cod Hospital was hiring and “My father said, ‘If you don’t know what you are going to do, go to the hospital and make some money until you figure it out long term.”
Along the way, he figured out that he liked it. From housekeeping to sterilizing instruments to working in the warehouse, to his current job as a nurse’s aid, Thompson said that what he liked about working in the hospital was that “you get to give people a sense of love. You are not alone.”
Some people at a hospital are not visited by anyone, he said. But his job interacting with a patient, even in different roles, gives that patient a sense of “We’re going to be your family,” said Thompson.
In the early 1990s, Thompson was still in singing groups but he started to promote some shows, teen nights and such, he said. And then in 1995, a good friend, John Z. Daluze of Harwich, was killed in a motorcycle accident.
“I had seen him the week before,” said Thompson. “When we spoke, he seemed sort of different to me. It was very calming. At one point, he said, ‘I’ll always be here for you.’,” he said.
When his friend died, Thompson wrote a tribute poem for him, “Always On My Mind,” that was read at the wake.
Later, a friend who played guitar “put some melody to it. We auditioned for a contest in Nashville.” He decided to go even though he needed an additional $250. He bought a bus ticket, hoping for the best. He still felt destined for the entertainment industry.
In 1996, Thompson was about to take a bus to Nashville to perform at the Grand Ol’ Opry when he first stopped to see Daluze’s mother.
When he saw his friend’s mom, she gave him a prayer card with a religious saying on it. With it was a check for $250. It was the exact amount he needed, he said. He had told no one he needed it.
Then just before he left for Nashville, his mother, who is a church deacon, recited the same prayer from the prayer card. Hearing the same prayer twice so soon made Thompson think “this is crazy,” he said.
And then “in some town you never heard of” a scraggly-haired guy that looked like a bum got on the bus, he said. Despite plenty of open seats, the man sat next to Thompson, he said.
After small talk, he began talking about the Bible, said Thompson. The man then recited the same prayer verse that both his mother and his friend’s mother had recently given him or told him. “Then he stops, he looks at me, and he says, ‘Things are going to be fine,’” said Thompson.
When Thompson finally got to his hotel. “I broke down. I mean, you can’t make this up. I called my mother. She told me, ‘You just met your guardian angel,’’’ he said.
After the man got off the bus in a wide open area, Thompson looked away briefly and then back and “I didn’t see him anywhere. He was nowhere to be found. I had looked away for like three seconds.”
When Thompson finally got to his hotel. “I broke down. I mean, you can’t make this up. I called my mother. She told me, ‘You just met your guardian angel,’’’ he said.
In Nashville, Thompson said, the performance went well and he was offered a contract but “it was a shady contract,” he said.
Thompson declined to sign. “But when I was in Nashville, I met a few people doing entertainment stuff and I met a girl who was doing a video show and she suggested that I could do something similar.”
“She was like, ‘Your energy is so strong,’” said Thompson.
So when Thompson came back, he and Lus created a cable TV show at the Cape Media Center In Yarmouth, “The Real Video Show.” Lus was the producer and camera operator. Thompson was the host. They edited it together, said Thompson.
He mostly gave up performing music. He had another plan.
Thompson and Lus started as everyone in local cable access does; they took classes and learned.
And then they created a template. Thompson interviewed the Barnstable Silver Bullet cheerleaders. These are the cheerleaders for the local Pop Warner Youth football team. The cheerleaders are the same age as the football players. They are youth cheerleaders.
“My niece was one of the cheerleaders,” Thompson explained of his way in.
He and Lus created a short video of the cheerleaders and he interspersed music videos, he had taped of MTV, into a longer show.
He then then sent the edited but unaired tape to “a bunch of music companies” and said, “This is what the show would look like if they would send us videos,” said Thompson.
The Real Video Show, a cable access television show on Cape Cod, began airing national music videos – especially those that were not being seen on MTV.
And then when he could travel to a city for a concert – New York, Boston, Providence etc. – he got to interview the celebrities – Justin Timberlake, Steven Tyler, Salt n Peppa, Britney Spears and more.
“We met Jay Z two or three times,” said Lus.
Thompson didn’t just bring along only Lus every time.
“Every time there was a big show, he would get me into the Boston Garden, sitting right there while he’s interviewing Beyonce, Drew Hill, Busta Rhymes. The amazing thing was they all knew him as JT,” said Smith.
Thompson would introduce himself a second time to a celebrity, said Smith, and they would say, “Oh JT, I know who you are.”
In addition to having national celebrities and music videos on a local cable access channel, Thompson kept the local part in the Real Video Show. It was real local.
He interviewed local acts.
And it was much more than interviews.
“He built up the entertainment scene down on the Cape for the Hip Hop and African American community. He built that scene,” said Smith. “I just wish he could have gone national.”
“He was the trail blazer that brought acts down to the Cape,” said Smith. “He was the liaison. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different. It was JT that brought everyone down here in the 90s.
“He made this an entertainment mecca for that urban scene,” said Smith.
The cable access show lasted from 1996 to 2003, said Thompson. In 2001, Thompson’s son, Daryan, was born and in 2002 Thompson got full custody. A year later, The Real Video Show came to an end.
Thompson also has a stepdaughter, Daycia, whom he has raised since she was 7 years old. Both of his children are the same age, 18. Becoming a father “was responsibility, a whole new world,” said Thompson. “I loved it.”
After The Real Video Show ended, Thompson concentrated on raising his son, and then his daughter too.
“I got into the whole Dad thing,” he said. “Sports, everything.”
He continued to work at the hospital and kept himself involved in the Cape entertainment world, putting on shows at Pufferbellies, The Compass Lounge and other venues.
He helped promote Toots & the Maytals, Naughty By Nature, Puddle of Mud and many others, he said. “It was promotion, taking care of acts, getting sound guys, all that,” he said.
This busy life continued, and then around 2014 he need knee surgery. “After years of break dancing, I had torn my meniscus,” he said.
So while he was “out of commission,” he began giving quick video updates to his family and friends. It was a progress report on his recovering knee presented in his one-of-a-kind style.
Good or bad daily progress, he said, “I always ended with, ‘It could be worse.”
And the important thing was, the video blog went out daily. “I started it for my family, friends. Then it was for people in my community. Then people started reaching out to me from Texas, California, other places,” said Thompson.
“People started following the show through somebody else,” he said. There it was. It was a show, and folks were discovering it.
A life of break-dancing led to a knee injury which led to a video blog which became popular by the force of Thompson’s personality and the magic of this interconnected world.
The JT Chronicles had become a thing.
When his knee recovered, he continued the show. “I was doing a lot of things in the community,” he said. “I was doing a lot of charity events. When something happened in the community, good or bad, at that time I would try to be there.”
And he was also just being a public part of the community. He would attend school sporting events, for instance, and do brief interviews with players. The show was gaining popularity the more it got discovered.
Thompson also became involved in a local movement called People Of Action in 2014 after tensions between police and minority communities rose in several places around the country.
Since then, the group has put on a large event called, Unity Day on the Hyannis Village Green. Local police and the community gather once a year for the event, allowing for friendly interaction and the hope of building relationships.
The fifth Unity Day will be held this summer. Lus, who is also part of People of Action, described the organization as “a group of guys doing positive things in the community.”
At Unity Day, of course, Thompson is “the person who has the microphone,” said Lus.
In October 2016, three college students from Cape Cod and a college friend from upstate New York were killed by a drunk driver on Route 495 as they were returning to school after visiting family on the Cape.
The deaths of the three Cape students, Kraig Diggs of Osterville, Jordan Galvin-Jutras of Hyannis, and Jordan Fisher of Harwich, shook the community, said Thompson.
When it happened, said Thompson, “I felt like it was one of my kids. I was friends with all the kids and also very good friends with the parents and uncles and aunts. It was family. You don’t need to have blood relations to have family.”
As often happens when horrible events happen, especially to young people, the community grieved. There was a need to get together and try to understand and heal. A vigil was planned for the Hyannis Village Green, said Thompson.
“Because of how I was becoming known in the community, I was asked to host,” he said. He worked with a Barnstable police officer, Brian Morrison, to quickly plan the very needed but horribly sad event.
“You have almost a thousand people out there, crying. I get it,” he recalled thinking. He had been hit hard. His own children had called him crying, not wanting to go to school.
Thompson started talking. He talked about the kids who were killed after coming home to the Cape for the weekend. They were living the right way, going back to school. It was raw stuff. “It just came from the heart,” he said.
“You have to love each other,” he told them. “Nothing is promised so don’t hesitate to tell someone how you feel. Dude, I love you,” he told them, doesn’t make them weak. It makes them stronger.
“You saw young kids crying. Boys, and girls. It was important for young men to hear,” said Thompson.
He continued. It was not planned. It was a spontaneous heartfelt message.
Thompson talked about anger. “Young men need to open up and not harbor all that anger. They hold it all inside and then snap over something minute. They have no way of letting that anger out.”
He told the grieving young men on the Hyannis Village Green that day, “Dude, you’ve got to let that shit out of you. You can’t keep all that anger and anxiety inside of you.”
As he was talking into the microphone, trying to publicly process and make sense of a horrible situation, a phrase popped into his head and then onto his lips: “One love, one family, one community.”
He said it again. He got the crowd to repeat it. He said it again, getting folks to repeat, “One love, one family, one community.”
“I am making them scream it,” he recalled.
“After the vigil for the boys,” said Thompson, “I basically became a community leader in a sense. People said, ‘Like you’re a voice. You don’t realize how many people are following you and are watching you.”
“Older people, black and white, were coming up to me getting in my ear and saying you need to keep doing this,” he said. “What you are doing is making an impact.”
But most important of all, he said, he was told kids were watching. Kids told him, and adults told him about their children who were fans.
It warmed his heart, and strengthened his resolve.
Within a week or two after the accident and subsequent vigil, he said, JT Chronicles had a new tagline: “One love, one family, one community.”
“I have to do it every day. You see the positive stuff every day, and I hope it clicks,” he said. “You have to love yourself. That’s a huge thing.”
The videos are short. They can seem random, but they are in fact a moment in his day – his morning. When he wakes, he said he meditates to start the day and find his message he wants to share that day.
The videos are aimed at the community, but Thompson said the Instagram posts are aimed at a younger audience.
In all videos on all platforms, he said, “My deliverance is very raw and very real. I’m not trying to sell them bullshit. I’m saying, This is what happened to me.”
This simple message of stay positive could come across as shallow nonsense with the wrong messenger but Lus said, “It’s not hokey at all because that’s truly who he is. He is positive most, if not all of the time.”
“He’s been genuine since he’s been 7 years old,” said Smith. “He was always Mr. Positive. His friends might be cynical and he would always find the bright side. All the time, to the point that it was annoying. It was extremely annoying at times.”
And even when it was annoying, it worked. Years later, there is still an annual cookout of friends, said Smith, and “unless JT shows up, it’s not the same cookout.”
“Within two minutes, he’s cracking jokes,” said Smith. “The next minute, everybody’s talking to him. He’s holding court. And then when he leaves, he leaves with a wheelbarrow’s full of food. When we know Jonathan is on the way,” he said with a laugh, “we make sure there is enough food.”
The laughs, the positivity, that sense of family and community are the things that Thompson most wants to spread, he said.
“I want people to understand that there’s so much more good than bad out there,” he said.
“I just love the way I was brought up and the people I got to meet,” said Thompson. “People that look out for one another and look out for each other’s kids even if they weren’t your kids.”
“That’s small community type of love,” he said.
Thompson said when he grew up, “Doors were open everywhere you went. You felt safe. You felt welcome. That is community. It doesn’t matter about blood [relations]. It matters how you treat each other.”
Thompson thinks this message can spread, not just through out Cape but well beyond. Precisely because this is a tourist community, he said, locals can impact people far beyond local communities by the simple act of being kind, smiling, and having a positive attitude.
“Maybe when they leave here,” said Thompson, “they can take it somewhere else with them. They can take the positive energy to their community and spread it there,” he said.
Besides his job at the hospital, Thompson is still involved in the entertainment industry. He is a partner with a DJ, Angel Robinson of Yarmouth.
“We make a party,” he said. They work things like Sweet 16 parties, fundraisers, kids events and more, he said. He has a website promoting everything he does.
But it is JT Chronicles, and the spinoff of public speaking, including at Cape Cod schools, that he is trying to grow. He is spreading a message of positivity and a sense of community.
One fan and helper is Margot Cahoon of Centerville who described herself as a “middle-aged white woman” who is a marketing specialist that was “so inspired by his message that I wanted to help promote it.”
And so she is helping him spread his message and, she said, hopefully earn him a bit of money for what she sees as a marketable talent.
“I believe his message is so important and he appeals to such a wide audience that he certainly is somebody who go on the road and speak to much larger audiences as a positive public speaker. I see huge potential,” she said.
“He’s doing a genuine kindness,” she said. He’s not looking for anything out of this. He’s just being himself.”
“I want to see him succeed,” she said. “He deserves to be compensated.”
“I’ve seen his potential and growth over the past seven years,” she said. “I was struck by the way JT makes everyone feel special.”
Cahoon said she especially liked that, “He appeals to kids. They listen to him. They think he’s cool. They respect what he’s saying. His message is a great message: Find your gift. Be a gift. Figure out how you can help your community.”
“That’s the vision it seems he always had,” said Smith. “He just didn’t share it much.”
In retrospect, said Smith, “You could see it growing up. And the steps he’s taken. There was more to it than the TV show. There’s more to it than the concerts. He used his celebratory platform and it seems like he always had a plan.”
“His plan was to unite everybody,” said Smith.
When Thompson talks to groups of kids, he said, he stresses “start loving yourself and you’ll be amazed at the things you can do.”
He urges them to put down their phones and engage with the world, he said.
“I want to see kids outside playing,” said Thompson. “I want my car to get hit by a football, a tennis ball. I miss that.”
Please like us on Facebook
For more stories like this, please see Longform stories
See also, Profiles
From Cape Cod Wave: YOU CAN’T SELL RIGHT FIELD, A Cape Cod Novel