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  • Writer's pictureBrian Gellerstein

Remembering Jarritt Sheel

The night loves the stars as they play about the Darkness…the day

loves the light caressing the sun…We love…those who do…

because we live in a world requiring light and Darkness…

partnership and solitude…sameness and difference…the familiar

and the unknown…We love because it’s the only true adventure…

—Nikki Giovanni, Love: Is a Human Condition

Much like the night loves the stars as they play about the Darkness, so many loved Jarritt Ahmed Sheel. Jarritt loved the poems of Nikki Giovanni and understood all too well the frictions juxtaposed in Love: Is a Human Condition. We loved Jarritt because for his boundless love in a world of hate. We loved Jarritt because he challenged what was and what is because he recognized what might be. We loved Jarritt because he saw the Darkness and willfully chose to be the light. We loved Jarritt because he knew that the common thread that surrounds and tethers us is love…and his bonds were strong. And we loved Jarritt because he recognized that this ribbon in the sky was more verb than noun and it demanded both courage and commitment.

In the days since his passing, I have considered how I might characterize a man who was a star in the darkness to so many. He possessed so many qualities…so many hats…so many layers…so many lives…in just 46 years with us. For the many—and there are indeed many—accolades, achievements, and honors Jarritt achieved during his life there are folks better positioned than I to tell the tales[1]. I decided, with a deep and tender pain, to tell you about my impression of Jarritt—not because it was unique but because it was representative of how so many of us understood our friend.

I knew Jarritt’s work before I knew the man—we moved in similar circles, had intersecting interests, and too many mutual colleagues and friends to count. I admired his intellect, charm, and his impeccable style of thought, writing, and fashion. At some point, I wrote to him, and we became fast friends and co-conspirators. In the past few weeks, as I have mourned with Jarritt’s students, mentees, mentors, colleagues, friends, and family, I have noticed an unmistakable experiential throughline in all the relationships. Regardless of the sameness and differences in experiences, across the familiar and the unknown, Jarritt knew us. And I don’t mean that surface level knowing that comes through networking and Facebook friending—Jarritt knew us. He always found a way to find what was at our core and amplify it. He had relationships with us, cherished each of us, and understood the individuality and potential in us all. With Jarritt—in defiance of self—there was always an array of us.

Jarritt strode through our world with a belief in what Paulo Freire called radical love—Moreso, he was the embodiment of radical love. He knew that love is an act that requires participation and demands humility, faith, hope, empathy, and dialogue. To Jarritt, love was praxis and called for the cyclic continuity of deep thought, action, and reflection—this was both his gift and his gift to us. His love was intentional, thoughtful, and profound. His love was deliberately positioned in the face of hate, violence, and pain. And Jarritt, as his cherished wife Antonia reminded us, “never turned that love off. Never.”

I’ve been reflecting on the last conversation I had with my friend—it was a few days before his passing. He and I were not able to connect for a scheduled call the previous week, and on a hopeful whim I reached out. When he picked up, I felt relieved and told him just how lucky I was that he answered. In classic Jarritt fashion—I could hear his famous smirk through my phone—he let me know that something was clearly wrong with me. He saw through my dorkiness and recognized my love—and I knew that he loved me and was happy to take my call. We talked about our kids, our work, and our next projects together, all to the soundtrack of the Sheel family clatter in the background. Of all the dope sounds that Jarritt created and curated throughout his life, this was unequivocally his favorite. His Springfield home was filled with the sounds of his beloved wife, Antonia; his kids Judah (6), Aden (2), and Sarah (1); and Marley the wonder dog—and it was the perfect mix.

Jarritt and I ended our phone call with plans to begin work on our next project in the coming weeks. He asked if I could start the next day…I really wish I could have. As soon as we hung up, I texted to tell him all the things I forgot to talk about that we needed to pick up on during our next conversation—he was down for it. There was no next conversation…and I will always be grateful for our last time. I hold my gratitude that we had this final talk next to my grief that no more will come—this friction is love. I hold my memories of joy next to my sadness that they have been capped—this friction, too, is love. I hold the world with Jarritt next to a world without my friend—and this friction is love. Jarritt and I both sought the frictions in life as they inevitably lead to oppression or liberation—yet another friction. After Jarritt’s passing, I commissioned another dear friend to create a portrait of Jarritt that captured his love, brilliance, and frictions and I believe this was achieved. This portrait by artist TJ Reynolds is a gift to Antonia, the kids, and readers. I will continue the work he and I began, with Jarritt in my heart, his passion in my soul, and his legacy on the forefront of my mind.

Original portrait of Jarritt Ahmed Sheel by TJ Reynolds, 2022

Jarritt Ahmed Sheel believed in service—to God, to family, to friends, to students, to music education, and to the world. He believed in the limitless power of teaching and learning. He believed in transformation. He believed in relationships. He believed in the future. Jarritt believed in us all. Our friend exuded love with no fear, and I challenge us all to follow the course that Jarritt has shown us and love radically and unapologetically. We are fortunate for the time Jarritt spent with us and are all better for having been in community with this great human. I called him Jarritt, the real deal, Sheel—2 Rs, 2 Ts, 2 Es, and he was as real as they come. Rest in peace, my brother—your memory will be our blessing.

This tribute was originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of the Massachusetts Music Educators Journal.

[1] You can read the obituary of Jarritt Ahmed Sheel at

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