By: El Stephens
Photos by: Matt Johnson
Hip-hop and R&B artist and UofL Business Administration Major El Stephens — who composes and produces his own music — shares his personal essay on the meaning of family with VOICE-TRIBUNE. Learn more about Stephen’s music on elstephens.com.
As cliche as it may sound, I’ve started to realize that family really is everything. As I’ve gotten older, this simple concept of family being supremely important has stuck with me more and more. We all have families, this complicated network of relationships attached to us at birth, often recognizable by a shared last name. That’s the best definition I could come up with by trying to sound smart, but what does that really mean to me? In simple terms, it’s like built-in support and companionship. While I’m trying to discover who I am as an individual, I find myself finding a lot of the answers through fostering the bond with the people related to me. Trying to learn who I am as a person has brought me closer to my family than ever before. It’s as if I’ve felt a new sense of purpose, suddenly I want to be the best son, brother, cousin, eventual uncle, eventual father, and so on. I want to understand my history, and continue the legacy in the future, all while continuing to enjoy and build upon the relationships with my family right now, in the present.
I have close family in other countries, and across the US, but a lot of my immediate family is located right here in Louisville, primarily on my dad’s side. I think most of these values I have of family have come right from my own household, with my parents planting the seeds from a young age. I’ve lived with my mom, dad and brother for all of my life. No matter what I was doing, or what I thought I’d rather be doing at the time, I knew the importance of family time. Every night, we ate dinner together, the four of us at the dinner table. No phones, no other activities, just us all talking, eating, and sharing quality time together. This has been going on for as long as I can remember, and I think it’s one of the main reasons we are as close as we are. My friends even used to joke on me for being so close to my family. Any time I do something cool or hear something interesting, I find myself texting in the Stephens group chat, eager to share and hear back from them before anyone else. Most of the laughs I get in a day are from our text thread, whether it be funny pictures or joking on each other or just stories from our day to day. Me and my brother's combined senses of humor are so complex and intertwined, it’s as if we’re speaking another language. Making my mom laugh is one of the purest and most heartwarming things I could feel. The way that we interact and share these moments brings me nothing but pure joy. We support each other, talk openly, and care for each other, but in our own unique way. Living with my family has helped me realize that we live in a house, but it’s what we have with each other that makes it a home.
As I’ve matured, I’ve started to fall back into my more introverted ways. As a college student living at home, I’ve felt the pressure of going out, partying, or getting the infamous “college experience.” For me though, there’s usually nowhere else I’d rather be than at home, with my family. We often joke that even though I hate to admit it, I’m basically the same person as my dad and grandfather. The three of us share the same name, (Lafayette Stephens Sr, Jr, III) and our favorite activities involve basketball, making music, eating pizza, and watching TV. Nothing is certain, but I assume my future child will be the same way, and I can’t wait for that day. For now though, I’m enjoying every moment I can with my family, and that typically looks like us showing up 10-deep to each other's sporting events and other outings. Whether it be my brother's basketball game, or my cousin's soccer tournament, you can expect to see a giant crowd of Stephens sitting in the front row and cheering (quite loud). My family has been supporting me since elementary school talent shows and concerts, and they still show up for me at my performances at venues like 4th Street Live and the State Fair. I can’t thank them enough for all the wisdom, guidance, and lessons I’ve learned from them, but I know they have all shaped me into the man I am today. I deeply cherish every memory and moment we have together, and I am so excited to keep on developing these bonds and relationships that I hold so close to me. When asked what family means to me, the best way I can respond is: everything.