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Meet Zepheniah James

by | Mar 14, 2023 | PARC Stories

“I’m a hugger, it brings the tension down”  

We recently had the chance to sit down with Zepheniah James (Zephie) who worked at PARC for 17 1/2 years before retiring in 2016.  He brought passion for community and a unique musical experience which played a large part in developing PARC’s music program and groups.  

Zephie still takes time to visit our Drop-in, greeting staff and members, sharing hugs, laughs and memories.  Here’s what Zephie shared on his recent visit:  

What brought you to PARC?  

“I was referred by another former PARC employee who I knew from Frontier College for a role in PARC’s Drop-in. From that interview, there’s a question I always remember:   

‘If there was a big fight downstairs, how would you handle it?’ My answer was that I can calm anyone, it’s no problem. When you see anyone having a challenging time, you can see yourself at a different turn in life, it could happen to anyone.”   

This job was a blessing in disguise. It was a good journey and it made me a better person. Music is just in my genes. The staff were all great. You can be your whole person here.  I wouldn’t have traded this opportunity for anything.”  

How did the music program start?  

“There are incredible musicians who come through here, and people who visited the Drop-in needed more to do than have a meal.  So I started a drumming group.  We would sit and play, I would teach some things and people who may not have gotten along day to day, got along when they played music together. Everything that came out of those sessions at PARC was a blessing.”  

We started going and playing around Toronto; at events, picnics and demonstrations – bringing community together, singing, shouting, you bring a Djembe, and it just blows right up!  

It was a nice journey – I’m a people person, I like to see someone doing good and being happy. The experience taught me a lot; to stay humble and how many hats we wear at PARC.    

Do you have a favourite memory or story about PARC?  

“My greatest experience was Toby.  Toby would sit down at the piano and start to play – just blew my mind.  In Jamaica, I had worked with incredible musicians, and when I started to listen to Toby, I asked if I could play drums along.  Once we started playing, Toby turned around and looked at me and said ‘you’re the man!’ and that’s how we continued every time we saw each other.  

Toby also played all over the city and was something else. When Toby passed away, it was very hard in terms of the void left. At the piano, Toby gave you everything, and loved PARC.    

Why do you keep visiting PARC? What do you like about it?   

“It’s the service and it’s always a big a hug.”  

What are you up to now?  

“Still bringing people together with music, I’ve done some work with migrant workers, playing instruments, using music to build community.   I still play my drums and do a few gigs here and there, mostly recently my band, Zephie James and The Hot Pepper Jam closed the Niagara Canada Summer Games, main stage in August 2022.  

Generally, I don’t want to watch the world around me and not do something.”