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A Life Worth Living

Amidst a battle with anorexia and   depression with an unforeseeable end, Angelo Thomas came to find his purpose. Not only as a film student at CCAD, but by becoming the voice of those who had endured a similar struggle. In May, Angelo debuted To A Life Worth Living, a cathartic short film documenting his [...]
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Amidst a battle with anorexia and   depression with an unforeseeable end, Angelo Thomas came to find his purpose.

Not only as a film student at CCAD, but by becoming the voice of those who had endured a similar struggle. In May, Angelo debuted To A Life Worth Living, a cathartic short film documenting his experience with anorexia and ultimate receival of treatment, and then this fall, followed up with a young adult novel based on a similar character.

“The whole thing started my sophomore year of high school, so it went on for four years,” Angelo says of the beginning stages of his condition. “Throughout that time, there were a lot of people who would notice and say something. I was really stubborn and in denial about what was going on and I just refused to do anything about it.”

Despite his guilt, it was Angelo who realized that he needed to make a drastic change that would ultimately save his life. With friends and family members alike noticing his gradual emaciation, Angelo admits that his weight loss also put a damper on his mental wellness.

“It’s really important to be open about what you’re going through and that’s what I’m trying to encourage people to do. The goal of the documentary wasn’t to go viral or to get a certain number of views, it was to reach out to those people who would need it, and I think that’s what it’s doing.”

“The eating disorder totally changed who I was. I was really depressed all the time and not a nice person. A big part of it was because I wasn’t eating a lot at all, so I was kind of drained,” he says. “I was obsessively counting calories and I lost the weight really quickly. I was 210 pounds and I went to 99, so it was a lot of weight loss pretty fast.”

Angelo’s battle with anorexia soon crept from his high school years into becoming a student at CCAD. With friends continuously seeing that Angelo was withdrawn both physically and mentally, he decided to seek treatment during his sophomore year. However, Angelo was faced with initially being declined admission during a phone call with The Center of Balanced Living in January, as his weight was considered too low.

The woman I was talking to saved the biggest question for last and that was, “what is your weight and height?” he begins. “When I told her, there was a silence on the other side of the phone for thirty seconds. She was like, ‘I’m sorry but there’s nothing we can do for you.’ That was horrible to hear.”

After being referred to emergency residential and inpatient treatment centers in Cleveland and out of state, Angelo contemplated whether he would have to drop out of school. Motivated to still attend CCAD, Angelo began gaining weight on his own, just enough to start treatment at The Center of Balanced Living. He started by being in a partial hospitalization treatment for five days a week, six hours a day for an entire month, later moving to outpatient therapy once a week.

In retrospect, Angelo knows just exactly what caused his body disorder.

“It came from depression and I think being gay was a big part of it, too,” he says. “The things that I know about eating disorders and statistics, it is more prevalent in gay men than in straight men and I think it’s because of certain societal standards. I was really overweight the first couple years of high school, and I felt like I needed to be thin to be accepted.”

After his time in treatment, Angelo found that his journey was compelling enough to create a short documentary, thus spawning To A Life Worth Living, which he originally made as a film class final. In the film, Angelo’s close friends and family members—even his former therapist and dietitian from The Center of Balanced Living— recollect their experiences with discovering that Angelo had anorexia and his treatment process. His twin brother Andrew speaks on coming to terms with Angelo’s weight loss, and close friend Madison reveals that she had anorexia at the same time as Angelo. Shortly after releasing To A Life Worth Living, Angelo went to Evolved on Summit to get the words “life worth living” tattooed in script form on his forearm. The message isn’t just a reminder for him, but for thousands of viewers of the short film, with whom Angelo’s story has resonated.

“It’s kind of crazy how many people have reached out to me. The National Association for Anorexia reached out to me and a lot of people have messaged me on Facebook and Instagram who have gone through similar things,” he says. “It’s really important to be open about what you’re going through and that’s what I’m trying to encourage people to do. The goal of the documentary wasn’t to go viral or to get a certain number of views, it was to reach out to those people who would need it, and I think that’s what it’s doing.”

Since then, Angelo has returned to CCAD with his first young adult novel in-hand. The Incredible Jake Parker, released September 3rd, is based on fictional pop singer Jake Parker and his rehabilitation from anorexia.

“It felt like a natural progression from what I did with the documentary. I thought, what else can I do with this?” he says of the book’s beginning stages. “I did want to tell my own story in a book form. Representation is a huge deal, in books and film. It wouldn’t be realistic for me to make a feature-length film right now, so a book was something that was more feasible.”

With encouragement from his brother, the novel was spawned. While Angelo admits that The Incredible Jake Parker was originally contrived as a screenplay, he does foresee an expansion of the novel, propelling into a series and even film.

“Sometimes it’s hard to remove myself from it and not just make it my story. The book is written in first-person, so putting myself back in that headspace was interesting and challenging,” he says. “I had some difficult days, especially towards the beginning, trying to get myself into that mindset and think about the things that were going into my head early on in the recovery process. So much of it is internal. People who are depressed or having eating disorders, they don’t do a great job of showing their emotion and what they’re thinking on the outside, I think it was important for me to tell it in first-person and let the reader get inside their head.”

Angelo also hopes to expound upon the after-effects of treatment, as reality settles in once patients adjust to their new lives. “There are some new challenges that come with gaining weight and accepting your new appearance that I’d like to address in another book,” he says. “You still deal with the same thoughts; it doesn’t just go away magically.”

With 25 percent of book sales being donated to National Association of Anorexia Nervosa (ANAD) and another 25 percent being donated to Angelo’s treatment center, he’s fully prepared for Jake Parker’s story to match the present climate of his peers.

As the character of Jake Parker faces societal pressures of dealing with fame at a young age, Angelo based his novel on the triggering of eating disorders. “I know a lot of people who have eating disorders and that’s their life—they just live with that,” he says. “A lot of people just don’t understand the value in going to treatment and seeing professionals in that kind of intervention. My experience at the center was life-changing and I wanted that to be a part of Jake Parker’s story.”

For more on Angelo’s story, you can view A Life
Worth Living
on YouTube. The Incredible Jake Parker
is available on Amazon.

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The Interview: Wil Haygood

Author / Journalist / Curator Everyone loves an underdog. And in our interview, celebrated Columbus author Wil Haygood referenced many feel-good sports stories woven into the fabric of American culture. From Remember the Titans, to Hoosiers and Friday Night Lights, he maintains that the feat accomplished at East High during the 1968-69 school year, in [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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Author / Journalist / Curator

Everyone loves an underdog. And in our interview, celebrated Columbus author Wil Haygood referenced many feel-good sports stories woven into the fabric of American culture. From Remember the Titans, to Hoosiers and Friday Night Lights, he maintains that the feat accomplished at East High during the 1968-69 school year, in which the Tigers won championships in basketball and baseball 55 days apart, eclipses them all.

“I would never like to be called an activist,” says Wil Haygood when asked if he might consider himself such. “That’s not my game. I’m here just to find a good story. It’s my calling to be objective. I could never just tell one side of the story.”

Yet, in reading his latest book, Tigerland, and immersing the reader in the strife East High faced in the wake of the assassinations of MLK and RFK, the “feel-good” triumph of two championships takes on a higher purpose. There’s so much more to the story. It’s the tale of a segregated city getting its first African-American principal in Jack Gibbs. Of the white basketball coach Bob Hart, choosing to settle in an East side neighborhood he was warned against. The players, and mothers of players, who persevered in the newly developed housing projects despite overwhelming odds. Haygood may not want the title activist, but Tigerland could easily serve as guide in how to counter civil unrest, especially now, fifty years removed.

That objective journalism is becoming more of a rarity is troubling. Haygood’s storytelling is a resistance, and in Tigerland it’s a redemption story brought “from the shadows” that is uniquely complex and distinctly of Columbus. He insists there are many more stories of Tigerland’s ilk which must be exposed. The uncovering of a zeitgeist forgotten is a theme consistent with Haygood’s recent curation of the Harlem Renaissance exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art. In I, Too, Sing America (also an award-winning art book), he chose to spotlight lesser-known writers and artists of the era that continue to play “an enduring role in moving us forward.” How that dais influenced the cultural rise of African-Americans in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood where the sub-plots in Tigerland play out, is palpable in Haygood’s words.

In talking with Haygood, he’s acutely aware of how Tigerland’s legacy and the continued re-awakening of the Harlem Renaissance add to the social discourse that accumulates to this day. Our interview here is abridged, if only because we spent a taut 45 minutes veering down rabbit holes created by the vivid representation Haygood paints of Columbus, Ohio in 1968. Fortunately, it’s a conversation that has and could last for generations.

In an interview you talked about Tigerland not being the story “you were born to write, but a story that the rest of the world needed to hear.” Why is this now such an important story?

Wil Haygood: When I traveled around the country, to about 25 different cities talking about this book, people constantly asked me if the release of Tigerland was intentional given how timely the story was. It just happened that it was the 50th anniversary of the famous Olympic protests by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the Colin Kaepernick narrative was playing out, the President of the United States was attacking black athletes for their social activism—these were the things on the mind of so many people on this tour. Of course, I didn’t time it, but this story is just so topical, it’s so rich with drama, it just calls for very enlightening conversations with the people I met across the country.

I love it for the locality, and learning about a Columbus I never knew existed. So I’m curious to know if the heroes in this book, Bob Hart (East’s white football coach), Jack Gibbs (East’s first black principal), and the Tiger athletes, have always been heroes in your eyes, especially growing up? Did Columbus, en masse, know the history being made on the East side of town? 

WH: The city was so segregated that it was hard to give the East side its proper due. A figure like Jack Gibbs—he’s someone who you can almost make a movie about his life. It took so much perseverance and so much focus for the student body of East High to do what they did in that 1968-69 calendar year that I thank the literary gods for the foresight to return to my hometown and pull this story together. Frankly I kept waiting for this to be written by someone else, given the amount of high school sports stories that are on the shelf. I’m not trying to rate this story against any of the others, but I do think that it’s a book with a sports theme. It’s also a book that’s about far more than sports.

Was this your favorite book to write?

WH: That’s a tough question, but here’s how I’ll answer. As a little boy, I lived in the North side of the city. When I lived there East High was a mythical place and I had never laid eyes on that school. But I knew about it because it seemed to be this spiritual epicenter of the East side. It was where you had a lot of black teachers, an all-black student body. Your uncles, aunts, and cousins would always be talking about East High School. It constantly grew in my little boy mind. I lived within walking distance of the Ohio State Fairgrounds, so I would always beg my mother to let me go watch the team play. You had to be there. It was a lot wrapped up inside of me as I approached this book, because in a real way I was writing about my heroes. I’m sure that my history and emotions played a part in me wanting to do this book.
What memories do you have of Columbus during that time, that reminds you that no place was isolated from the racial and social unrest of the events of that era?

WH: In the summer of 1968, the very summer of after Martin Luther King’s assassination, my mother moved her five children to the Bolivar Arms housing project. Within weeks of moving there, there were riots on Mt. Vernon [Avenue]. I, as a 13 year old boy, saw National Guard tanks right through my screen door. It was a very frightening summer for me to wrapped up in that racial turmoil. I did not know that urban unrest on the North side of town. That street was integrated, our neighbors were white. Then I was thrust into this community on the East side that was feeling pain—the pain of a lack of good housing, a lack of jobs. The whole environment of urban America was set right outside of my front door.

How much do you think Columbus has progressed since the time of Tigerland in accepting inclusion and fostering growth in underprivileged neighborhoods like the East side?

WH: There has been a lot of maturity and growth in this city. I’m very proud of a lot of things that have happened. There is no big city in this country right now that doesn’t have social problems, but I think Columbus has done a much better job than some cities certainly in creating a peaceful dialogue over the years. I think that there have been stories that haven’t been championed as much as they should have. There is a gap in what the young people of Columbus know about the city’s past. Another fact from the book is that during that school year in 1969, East High sent more kids to college than they ever had before. Those are stories people need to know.

As a teacher of many students who come from broken homes and neighborhoods, I’d love to know what advice you give to young people?

WH: Since the release of the book I’ve spoken to Somali students in St. Paul, Minnesota, to white students in rural Maryland, black students in Dayton, Ohio. I tell students that on their darkest day, on that day when they feel like the world is not loving them enough, that they need only to take inspiration from these East High Tiger athletes. Eight of the twelve basketball players’ mothers worked as maids, many of them did not have fathers living in the home, two of them had fathers in jail, and none of them were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. But what pushed them and helped them succeed was a championship attitude before they dribbled a basketball or swung a baseball bat. They knew they wanted to be successful. They can lean into this story and they can rise up. Sports is a very gentle way to open the door to talk about poverty, racism, and sexism. You want to hear about how the winners won and how the losers dealt with losing.

Wil Haygood will be the first featured speaker of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Carnegie Author series on Jan. 27th. Register for free at Eventbrite.com.

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Remembering Chris Bradley

What will be the job of a meteorologist in heaven? I’m not sure if I think of heaven as a place of eternally ideal weather, but I do think of it as a place of purpose. There’s a job for everyone in heaven. When I first met Chris Bradley, I didn’t know who he was. [...]
Laura Dachenbach

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What will be the job of a meteorologist in heaven?

I’m not sure if I think of heaven as a place of eternally ideal weather, but I do think of it as a place of purpose. There’s a job for everyone in heaven.

When I first met Chris Bradley, I didn’t know who he was. I was new to King Avenue United Methodist Church, and Chris was just a nice guy corralling his young son in the milling area, which was full of other people I didn’t know. He was the dad that everyone wanted, standing with a watchful and proud eye and who was always ready for a hug and kiss. Such a stunning smile, I thought. Almost like a trademark. He was the friend everyone wanted to be with, adding a buoyancy, an accessibility, a welcomeness to the conversation. Sharp ties. This guy’s got some sharp ties. The more I observed, the more I wondered. Somehow, he seemed like someone I knew, or should know. One day, I decided to engage Chris in the only awkward conversation I knew him to have.

“So what do you do?”

“The weather on Channel 10.”

The dots started to connect. My face became warm. I started wearing hats and sunglasses and avoiding Chris for a couple weeks, hoping he’d forget me. But that wasn’t possible with the gregarious Bradley-Krausses, and eventually I grew to know and adore this charming and very musical bunch: Chris (who was an adopted child) his husband Jason, and their two adopted children Spencer and Maria—four people connected not by blood, but by their love for each other. The Bradley-Krausses became activists simply by being a family and living out their love for each other and their community with endearing authenticity, creating bonds that have extended beyond the loss of a family member.

In their dying, some people give the rest of us life because they illuminate what life should be about. Chris Bradley’s death from an aggressive form of acute myeloid leukemia was one of those moments. We can sometimes strangely forget the worthiness of our own lives—the reality that life is indeed more than existence and schedules and tasks. Chris fought for his life because he knew life was worth living. And we should also fight every day for this rare and precious privilege to be alive: to understand all that we can, say all that we can, and be all that we can for however long we are called to do so. Life itself is a terminal illness, and once in a while we are granted a remission from that affliction in being allowed to witness a soul such as Chris love life so much that we cannot help but fall in love with it again.

Weather is defined as an “act of God” because it is completely out of our control. Death is also out of our control. Both tend to depress people. I imagine the great faith in God Chris maintained throughout his life and illness is why he could confront both these inevitabilities with awe, never letting either of them overwhelm him, make him become bitter, or lessen his spirit.

Weather is what makes our planet alive. Chris is now a part of the rain that will nourish the beloved gardens around his home. He is part of the sunshine that will smile on his husband and children. He’ll be in the iridescence of every rainbow we post on Instagram and part of the joy of every Columbus kid’s snow day. Each time we marvel at the mercurial, if not downright wacky amalgamation of temperature and precipitation that is Columbus weather, we will remember our Chris Bradley.

Welcome to the incredible green screen of heaven Chris. You’ve still got a job, we’re still watching, and I have my derecho plan. Thanks for that.

Donations in the memory of Chris Bradley can be made to The Columbus Foundation. Visit columbusfoundation.org/fund/bradley/3730.

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A League For All

It’s draft day for your fantasy football league. As of now, everyone in the room is friends as they share insider tips, sleeper picks, and the laundry list of avoidable athletes. But in a few moments, the friendships joined by football end, and those faces in the room now become your week-to-week enemy. If this [...]
Mitch Hooper

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It’s draft day for your fantasy football league. As of now, everyone in the room is friends as they share insider tips, sleeper picks, and the laundry list of avoidable athletes. But in a few moments, the friendships joined by football end, and those faces in the room now become your week-to-week enemy.

If this sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is. After all, it’s fantasy football. But anyone who plays in a fantasy league knows one thing: winning is everything and a year of bragging rights over your closest colleagues is a feeling comparable to very little.

With the highest highs of winning comes the lowest of lows of losing. It doesn’t matter if you have crafted the perfect squad from top to bottom—injuries occur, athletes are traded, and expectations for your sleeper picks were just a little too high. Thus, your league dues are simply put into the pocket of your frenemies, or worse, the random people you met online when you joined that Yahoo league at the last second.

“The traditional way of just giving isn’t really a lot of fun … You make the gift and then it’s over with…By gamifying giving, what you’re leveraging really is the experience of feeling good about giving to a cause, but having fun while you’re doing it.”

This situation happens all too often in the fantasy sports world. The week-to-week challenges offered on FanDuel are often saturated with fantasy pros who make a living off competing against the common sports fan, and the long-term season ends with only one true winner, so your odds of coming home with the cash are slim. However, DraftMates, a fantasy sports app dedicated to raising funds for 501(c)(3) charities, is a chance for the casual fan to delve into the fun of winning, bragging rights, and trash talking—arguably the best parts of fantasy sports—while also giving back to the charity of your choice.

Created by Matt Golis, a Miami (OH) graduate and a Columbus-native, DraftMates was a dream that started in the Bay Area and made its way to Columbus. With the San Francisco traffic, the cost of living, and the struggle to build a team to design this application, Golis said he started to toss around the idea of moving back home.

“It was really difficult to hire a team with that type of a model,” Golis said. “[There] just aren’t the rabid sports fans like there are in
Columbus in the Bay Area.”

Fast forward roughly five months and now it’s Golis, a team of six members, and an office in New Albany.

By creating your league through DraftMates, each league member will pay the traditional dues to the commissioner, but instead of that money going into a pot for a winner-takes-all style competition, each member picks a charity to represent their team. If your team wins the league or in a weekly face-off, 85% of the profits will go towards that charity. The other 15% is spread across DraftMates for operations, and you know, keeping the lights on.

The idea, Golis explained, is something akin to a “gamified GoFundMe.” While fundraising services like GoFundMe as well as Facebook’s donations feature offer a chance for people to donate money to essentially anything—medical bills, a new car, your Aunt Suzie just needs a vacation and can’t afford it—DraftMates takes a different approach that allows the user to feel like they are getting an experience out of their donation.

“The traditional way of just giving isn’t really a lot of fun,” Golis said. “It’s kind of like you put your credit card information in online and you just say ‘donate now.’ You make the gift and then it’s over with…By gamifying giving, what you’re leveraging really is the experience of feeling good about giving to a cause, but having fun while you’re doing it.”

By doing this, it accomplishes two different things. First, if you are winning, you get the pleasure of knowing you are the champion and the charity of your choice will benefit from it. On the other hand (and this is what fantasy sites like FanDuel can’t offer), if you lose, your money is still going towards a good cause and not your buddy’s drinking money.

And the FanDuel experience is actually what Golis is trying to stay away from. DraftMates is for the casual sports fan, and even if you aren’t an avid sports watcher, the app offers an auto-draft and auto-pick feature that will take all the stress out of it for you. The idea here is not to cultivate a community of charity gambling, rather, a chance for people to have fun doing what they were already doing, while also giving back.

While as of now DraftMates offers fantasy leagues for the NFL and NBA, Golis said they are working on rolling out options throughout 2019 for many different sports varying from March Madness with college basketball to the PGA. Who knows? Your next office March Madness bracket could be held through DraftMates where each buy-in benefits the charity your office selects. At the end of the quarter, inning, or day, the participants have fun competing, the charity is able to raise funds for the things it needs, and everyone gets to be a winner.

DraftMates is available on Google Play or the App Store.

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