She’s sassy. She’s sweet. She’s a force to be reckoned with. At 17, California State University Long Beach senior theater major Jay Dent decided, “I need to live. I’m doing my bucket list every year. Everything I do, I can die, but I don’t. So my life must have purpose— God wants me to live.”
Today an actress, a poet, and the founder/president/vice president/treasurer/historian/event planner of the Black Actors Union, she works to inspire everyone to be, just be, to the very fullest.
Religio had the opportunity to chat with her over iced tea and a plateful of orange tofu cubes. Here is the story.
Religio Magazine: Tell me about your childhood.
Jay Dent: I was raised around lots of love and little material. I went to a Seventh-day Adventist private school, and I was always a leader. I was thinking about this the other day: I have always been a leader! When I was, like, 6 years old, I started a club called “Study Hall,” where I would tell all the kids to come and bring their homework and we would just study at lunch.
Middle school was okay. That’s when I lost a lot of friends. It exposed me to mean girls, puberty, and was a stepping stone for how I’m going to treat people. I was like a wandering li’l black sheep, literally.
RM: Have you experienced any instances of discrimination because of your color or race?
JD: When I moved to Colorado, I experienced extreme racism. I was the only black girl there, and people couldn’t handle it. I hated it there so much that I told my mom I couldn’t take it anymore. So she moved me to Grand View, a different school that’s actually ranked #4 in the nation, and I loved it there. Super multicultural. It was very stressful, but very good. That school shaped me into a disciplined college student.
After that, I got to be about 17 when I said to myself, “I need to live. I’m doing my bucket list every year. Everything I do, I can die, but I don’t. So my life must have purpose— God wants me to live.”
Let me tell you something, I have been through lots of near-death experiences (shooting at a party, getting attacked by a furious and mentally unstable woman at the bus stop). But I’m trying to teach people to dance in the rain. See, when all hell’s breaking loose, I know I’m doing something right. I’m on the hit list of hell, which must mean I really do belong to God.
RM: I know you said you were raised Seventh-day Adventist. How do you channel your beliefs, religion, and practices into your everyday life?
JD: I’m in the middle of writing a 25-page paper on spiritual warfare. It’s my senior thesis. My professor is an atheist, so I felt challenged to write it. I know God gave me the vision, so I can’t write it without him.
I was also asked to preach the sermon on Sunday! I want to show people that God will break his foot off in somebody’s behind for you. It’s going to go through Joshua 1 to 5, and then 8, talking about adversaries. What I got out of it was that when God presented himself to Joshua and Joshua thought he was an enemy, I realized that God must be huge and powerful. So I want to show people that. I want to show them that if they keep getting confidence in numbers, they’ll never have confidence in God.
I’m just trying to live my life where Jesus shows through me.
RM: Have you ever had experiences surrounding religious differences?
JD: Yeah. It’s hard, but you have to respect it. I learn from other religions. I recently took a class in Daoism just to get more educated, and what I learned is that “To know the Dao is to not know the Dao.” Basically, when you think you know everything is exactly when you don’t. There was this quote I really liked from Kim Wall, and it said, “Be a learner of the world. You never know where your inspiration’s gonna come from.”
RM: If you were given the chance to speak one message to everyone in the world, what would you say?
JD: One message? Gosh, that’s hard… Well… I’d say that it’s not about religion, it’s about relationship. Don’t let the constructs of society control you. Forgiveness and mercy are new every morning.
RM: You’re a Christian. What do you believe is God’s will for people of different religions?
JD: You know, for a while, I thought that only Adventists would go to heaven. I just found out that in Revelation it says all nations will be represented in heaven. Then, why can’t I go out on Friday nights? Why can’t I get a weave? If I can be Baptist and still go to heaven and Baptists let you get a weave, then I’m gonna go get a weave! Tell me why not? I really think religion was devised by Satan. For example, Abraham had two sons, one from the servant woman and one from his wife, Ishmael and Isaac. But Ishmael wasn’t blessed and Isaac was. So, what is God’s will? I can’t say, but God knows the heart. It’s not about the people in the church.
RM: Who is your greatest inspiration?
JD: I have three: 1) My mom. She’s “boss,” so strong, has great people skills, and is a memorable person. She’s someone people want to work with. She’s been working since she was 19. She is not a hypocrite. She tells me to own my feelings, and I do. I’m not going to sacrifice myself to save face for someone else. 2) My cousin Sherrene. Since she was 7, she’s been a mom to her siblings. There was never a positive male in her life, she was 16 years old in 8th grade, and the actions of others changed how she could live her life. So I respect her. 3) My great grandma. She’s from Belize. One day her best friend had a baby but didn’t want it, so she threw it in a dumpster. That baby was my mom’s mom. My great grandma saved the baby and raised it as her own, so she started my family. My family literally comes from a dumpster. That’s why I want to make it to the top.
They would be my greatest inspirations. Everything I do, I do for them. God told me, “You’re not their savior.” But they do keep me going.