Boys in Mind Meets...
An Interview with Jarrakeh Cherno Jarra
By: Kit Cooper-Harrison
Photo: Rapanui/Cody Hobbs
My name is Jarrakeh Cherno Jarra. I’m self-employed and my current occupation is as a model but I feel like that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Becoming a model has allowed me to speak to a platform and to be able to project myself further. I’m a model but I feel like I’m also a creative content creator. I went to school in Africa as a boy and then came to school in England. I decided that I wanted to join the military because I felt that I wasn’t very academic so my options were either construction or the military. I felt that the military, especially the Navy, supplied more adventure. I wanted to join at 16 but I went to college and became a builder. I did that for three years and realized that the Navy couldn’t come soon enough. Joining the Navy, I went off on deployment for seven months.
I had a brilliant time and I had a bad time. In the first half of deployment my grandmother passed away. The military don’t view grandparents as immediate family so I wasn’t able to come home and support my mother. I think in a family where it’s two parents that support network might work better but they didn’t take into account that I’d come from a single parent background. During the second half of deployment, my oldest sister passed away. I was sent home for compassionate leave but I was in a fragile space and I found myself on a substance-fueled self-destructive path and failed a drug test on my return to the Navy. I feel like it was a blessing in disguise. I wanted to leave and come home when my grandmother passed away. I didn’t need for it to take my sister to pass away too for me to come home.
The lowest time that I’ve had in my life was being stuck at sea when my sister passed away. I’ve told people that I got kicked out of the Navy and they make it seem shameful. I’m still proud of myself for serving my country. I started dating a Nigerian girl and she was the first person to make me look at it differently. All the people around me said “well done for being in the Royal Navy” but she asked “how can you be proud of yourself being part of this institution that colonized so much of the world?”. When she put it like that, I said to myself, “well you are mixed race and you never really fit in the military in the first place. The fact that it took for two of your family to die before they took any sympathy to send you home, maybe it’s good that you got kicked out?”.
It took me to hit rock bottom – losing my career, losing two members of my family, losing certain relationships in my life – to be able to start building from that point there. I was jobless for two weeks but I found a job working in a factory. I worked there for nine months and then the pandemic hit. I was on the zero-hours contract in the factory so I ended up working in Sainsbury’s. That’s when the protests were happening because of George Floyd. I took the time to reflect on the sadness and anger and think of positive ways to make a change. What happens to me in life is that I have breakdowns and the breakdowns lead to breakthroughs. The day of the protests was a breakdown for me, I just cried that whole day. I was feeling so angry.
I’ve been angry for so many reasons that it’s come to the point now that I realise that I can use it in a positive way. I’d been at breaking point with losing my family. I think the protest was the tipping point to me becoming a model. My friend Jennifer, who’s a photographer, reached out to me and she told me about a project. What sold it to me was the fact that she is an artist and she said that she views me as a muse. That’s allowed me to look at myself as a muse so I can create my own art. I decided to use powers of communication to make positive change, to rip down the walls and the racial barriers in society. I feel it is important for me to be somebody in the community that projects good energy.
I think the way that I struggled with mental issues when I was in the Navy was through the drinking culture. That was my escapism which wasn’t really an answer. There’s a support network in the military, you have your shipmates and you can talk to them. In the time that I spent in the military, the attitude towards mental health was certainly positive. But for me personally, I ended up relying on a heavier route of escapism but now I feel it’s important to use the powers of communication. One of my ex-partners was a hypnotherapist and she explained to me that she wanted to use me as a mirror, as a reflection. The idea of a reflection is that whatever she says, bounces back to her so subconsciously she’s not quite saying it to herself if she gets out in the air so is able to address it.
It’s been difficult because of lockdown and losing connection with people. My family have been supportive. I feel like finding people who are good reflections too. Having friends who are able to understand and communicate with you is important. I did a little bit of yoga this morning, I think about my energy and I like to listen to a lot of music and things like that. Last night I lit a fire pit in my backyard and listened to dub reggae. When I was in school, they asked a group of us a question: what do you want to be when you’re older? At that stage, I said that I wanted to be like my granddad who was a police officer. There was a girl who I can remember saying that she wanted to be successful. Looking back on it, I think I’d say don’t worry about being a police officer or anything like that. Just focus more on yourself and, regardless of what you’re doing, focus on being successful in that.