Rebooting Your Life in a Pandemic
Swift and Stacey Graham Are Finding Community and Living Their Best #CovidLife.
The pandemic has caused many people to reevaluate their lives. Whether through job loss, illness, or just general shutdown, the future many people anticipated no longer seems realistic — or even possible.
To Swift and Stacey Graham, the pandemic is just the most recent reboot in a series that has brought them to where they are today — a tight-knit family of five, living in Grove Park, once again re-imagining what their life will look like in the future.
Reboot #1: Connecting Through Music
Swift’s first reboot came when he was a troubled teenager in Philadelphia. His music teacher took him under his wing and encouraged his love of music, especially hip-hop music. Eventually, this relationship led to a surprise audition for Dr. Robert Hamilton, director of the Philadelphia Boys Choir and Chorale. The PBCC is where Broadway composer Benj Pasek and Boyz II Men star Shawn Stockman got their musical starts.
“I had no business being in the room with such greatness — or so I thought,” said Swift. “Dr. Hamilton asked me questions about my life, my troubles with the law, and of course music. He then asked me to sing for him. I had no idea that I was auditioning for the choir. After singing, he shook my hand and said, ‘Be here Thursday at 4 PM for rehearsal.’”
Swift credits music with saving his life. First through the choir, and then through hip hop, his love of music changed the trajectory of his future.
Reboot #2: Losing Their Son
Swift and Stacey married in 2004. They started their family quickly. A daughter came first, followed two years later by Rodney Jerome Graham, III, born in 2008. He was happy and healthy … until one day, he wasn’t. Stacey and Swift raced to the hospital after a frantic phone call from their babysitter saying that RJ wasn’t breathing and that an ambulance was on the way.
“He wasn’t sick or anything,” said Swift. “It was random and unexpected. We had no choice but to be strong through it. We were either going to lay down and let it defeat us, or we were going to stand up and be powerful.”
It also made their move to Atlanta two years later an easier decision.
“When it came to dropping everything and going to Atlanta, it was a no brainer,” said Swift. “You have one life to live. Let’s not waste our time being hesitant and scared. Let’s just go for it."
Swift says that RJ’s death was the first of many tests God gave to his family. The next would come four years later.
Reboot #3: Stacey’s Illness
In 2013, two years after moving to Atlanta, Stacey was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a rare blood cancer. It was Swift’s birthday when they heard the news. Instead of celebrating, he thought his wife was dying.
“I had three daughters — one I was homeschooling, one was two years old, and one was an infant. I was still nursing,” said Stacey. “It was life-shattering.”
Stacey had been preparing to go back to work. Instead, she was working to save her life. Swift chose to put his career on hold while Stacey fought her cancer. That decision was not an easy one to make. He had just released a new album, and he had a full tour booked. He canceled all of it.
“It was a very scary time,” said Swift. “We had so many questions about her health. We were completely unsure about our financial future. We were at the bottom for sure.”
But during those two years, Swift says they learned the true meaning of family and community. The kind of community that can lift you up and carry you through the darkest times. When they made their next move — to Grove Park — they were looking for that kind of community again.
Reboot #4: The Pandemic
Swift and Stacey moved to Grove Park in 2016 as they began to rebuild, after she was fully recovered from cancer. They now rent a home from Grove Park Renewal.
“Stacey and I were looking for a new neighborhood in Atlanta to move to, a place where we could really plant our feet and serve our community,” said Swift. “We wanted a place and a people to call home.”
Over time, Swift’s career rebounded and thrived once more. Stacey went back to work. Their girls grew up and settled into their new school. They put down roots in Grove Park and found the kind of community they were looking for.
And then … 2020 happened. It was time to reboot again.
All of Swift’s music and speaking engagements were canceled for a year. Stacey had left her job and was scheduled to start a new, better one when everything shut down. But because of the pandemic, they were no longer able to bring her onboard. Both Stacey and Swift are having to pivot and reimagine their careers.
“I’ve taken this time to work on new music and think of new business ventures and ways to improve my current business in music,” said Swift.
Stacey is using the time to gain new technical, coding skills. “I am enrolled in a software development course,” she said. “Upon completion, I hope to further my career and teach people in the community about software development.
In times that are so uncertain — that cause so much anxiety and stress — Swift and Stacey say there are still things that bring them joy: God, family, music, and community.
Swift and Stacey: Grove Park Community Leaders
Grove Park is changing in ways that encourage Swift and Stacey, but also make them wary. Their vision for Grove Park is of an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse community where “we can live, work, shop, eat, play, pray, and learn — all right here in our neighborhood.”
“We have a lot of people and organizations that are buying and building properties in this community in hopes of ‘bettering’ the Grove Park community,” said Swift. “But a community is people who are invested in each other’s well-being. I want to see more effort in actually building up our current residents instead of building a dream center for future or potential residents.”
Stacey and Swift also are using this reboot as an opportunity to envision how they invest directly in the youth of Grove Park through a nonprofit called Becoming Us.
Becoming Us is a development program for young men and women, age 17-25. The program pairs participants with a mentor who helps walk them through the program’s three phases.
Past — Educate young adults about where they come from by helping them discover their ancestry.
Present — Help them articulate areas of passion and discover ways to grow in those areas.
Future — Develop a one-year, three-year, and five-year plan to progress and pursue their passions.
“By the end of the program, our hope is that these young men and women — with the knowledge of their heritage and history — will be confident in who they are and empowered to build the future that they desire,” said Stacey.
They already are active in the community, leading small groups, and mentoring youth in life and music.
“Many years, television appearances, tours in other countries, being a part of two Grammy-nominated albums, and 10 solo albums later… I’m still doing what I love for a living,” said Swift. “I will forever be connected to it.”