On September 3, 2011 in Atlanta, my cousin Fairelma (Jean) Butler Hughes visited me at work. She was in town visiting her daughter Tiffany during the Labor Day weekend. I was overjoyed to see her, as I feel that she resembles my late grandmother, her great-aunt Willie Ealy Collier. Before Jean left my workplace, she invited me over to her daughter’s house for a Labor Day gathering. Her nephew, Joshua Marks, was in town as well, and he was cooking! Of course, I could not say no! I had already added my cousin Josh on Facebook, and I was very aware of his passion for cooking. The pictures he would post of his eclectic dishes on his Facebook page, JoshMarksCooks, would often leave my mouth watering. I believe I even licked the computer screen several times!
When I entered Tiffany’s house, Josh was there in his favorite place – the kitchen. Of course, the first thing anyone would notice about him was his height. Being 6’1”, I am often one of the taller people in the room, but Josh made me feel short. He was 7’2”, and like me, he too inherited the tall gene from our Ealy bloodline. But, Josh obviously inherited more of it. However, his greatest attribute, that was also very noticeable when meeting him for the first time, was his wonderful personality. As his nickname suggested, Josh was indeed a “gentle giant”; he was a joy to be around. His friendliness was inviting, and his cooking was beyond spectacular. As we stood in the kitchen talking, Josh was making one of his favorite dishes – shrimp etouffee. I doubt I will ever taste shrimp etouffee as good as Josh’s. Ever. If my Mom was present there, I would have jovially attempted to slap her, portraying the saying, “It is so good it’ll make you slap yo Momma.”
Josh’s famous shrimp etouffee he made for us.
One of several great things I admired about Josh was his tenacity. He was not afraid to pursue his goals and passion, even if it meant taking himself out of his comfort zone and out of his “temple of familiarity.” Unfortunately, that’s difficult for a lot of people to do. Graduating cum laude from Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi in 2009 and employed by the Army Corp of Engineers in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Josh’s passion for cooking was greater than the joy of his career as a contract specialist. He did not allow anyone to downgrade his passion. Kicking fear to the curb, he decided to try out for the Fox television cooking show, MasterChef, while visiting his family in Chicago. Josh impressed the judges and was selected as a contestant. During the show, he wow-ed the judges with his cooking abilities, and his eclectic dishes were so delectable that he advanced to the final round against Christine Ha. I was very proud of him, as well as many other family members, even ones who had never met him. I would often receive questions from a lot of family members asking me if Josh was their cousin, too. Many fans around the nation rooted for him on the show.
Unfortunately, the stress of the show was just too much for Josh. Mental illness surfaced and consumed my talented and gifted cousin. There were no indications of mental illness prior to the show, and I certainly didn’t see any during the time I spent with him – a time I will never forget. Ultimately, mental illness led him to take his own life on this past Friday. A mentally ill mind pulled the trigger, not the nice, humble, and talented “gentle giant” that everyone knew or witnessed. Many hearts are broken including my own. While dealing with the emotional pain of losing a child, his mother Paulette Butler Mitchell courageously shared details of Josh’s mental decline with the Chicago Tribune. Click HERE to read those details.
Mental illness is something that should not be ignored. Stigmas need to be broken, and if you know anyone who may be suffering mentally, please urge them to seek professional help. Our cousin, licensed psychologist and life coach Dr. Rose Moten-Lang of Detroit, expressed the following, “Often times, when a person knowingly or unknowingly has a predisposition for bipolar or schizophrenia, the first episode usually follows a stressful life change and/or event. Even changes/events considered positive can trigger the first episode of a mental break.” Undoubtedly, Josh’s legacy will be his accomplishments and his great attributes. I am optimistic that his and actor Lee Thompson Young’s unfortunate departures from this earthly setting will bring greater awareness about the importance of mental health and proper professional treatment, helping many of the untreated who are suffering mentally. I am sure Josh would want this.
R.I.P. Cuzzo. Your demise will not be in vain. Cook great meals for our ancestors!
Among many, the ancestors who are enjoying Josh’s cooking now include:
His maternal grandmother, Lettie B. Ealy Butler (1931-2012), and his tall great-grandfather, App Ealy (1890-1966) of Leake County (Lena), Mississippi
His great-great-grandparents, Paul Ealy (1859-1943) and Adeline Kennedy Ealy (1861-1942) of Leake County, Mississippi