A few years ago ‘King’ John Coleman was hit by a car — he was bedridden, his body broken, unable to work, and eventually homeless.
Unfortunately, car accidents are a repeating theme for John, a terrible family legacy. When he was 10 years old, his mother was coming home to pick him up when she was tragically killed in a car accident. That sent his life spiraling into dark spaces, and he found himself in “survival mode” on the streets of Tidewater Virginia, making decisions that would chase him forever.
Later, he was on his way to prison when his father was paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident. At 20 years old, he was at a crossroads.
Decades later, he would like to share his story. Thanks Kimberly Frost for putting John and I together for this interview.
John Coleman: My name is John Coleman, I am a personal trainer, I call myself a certified body builder by life experiences. I own a business called Mind Elevation Training. I like to train and get people healthy.
R Anthony Harris: Why is it important to you that people stay healthy?
JC: People don’t understand, your health is everything. My mom passed from a car accident when I was 10. My dad was hit by a car and paralyzed from the neck down. I had a car hit me three years ago, in 2018. Health is everything; without your health, there is nothing else.
RAH: So you take care of your body because you understand how easily it can be taken away from you.
JC: Health is very important. Taking care of my dad, I had to be physically fit to lift him up all the time. So I had to be in shape for that, which kept me on a path for taking care of myself, keeping myself up and at the same time, in that state of mind that if you don’t have your health — and I’m the only child, so losing my parents, my mom first and then eventually my dad, I only have myself — and without my health I don’t have anything. Without that I don’t even have myself, so it kept me in a state of mind that I need to stay healthy, to do whatever I need to do for myself.
RAH: So your mom passed after a car crash when you were 10 years old…
JC: …on the way to pick me up… she was home from the Army.
RAH: When did your father get into an accident?
JC: When I was 20 years old and had got locked up for the first time, my father was in a car accident two weeks later, paralyzed from the neck down. I didn’t see him until three years later, when I came home.
RAH: What was what was going on in your life when you were 20?
JC: The streets. I raised myself without my mom. I made a lot of bad decisions.
RAH: You think that was a reaction to losing your mother?
JC: Oh yeah, no question. I had a “fuck the world” attitude after my mom passed, and took life upon myself but didn’t know what living was then. I looked at my mom’s death as the worst thing that could have ever happened to me. You could take it two ways and my mind took the position to just look at it this one way.
So, it led me down a bad path, a lot of wrong decisions.
RAH: And you were in Richmond at that time?
JC: Richmond, Amelia, Tidewater…
RAH: At 20 years old you were in the court system. Your father was in a car crash, which leaves him paralyzed, and then you don’t get to see him for three years.
JC: I did three years for malicious wounding and selling drugs. But I got to see pictures of him. During that process I had a daughter that was born in ’94. Her being born kind of opened my mind, opened me up to be conscious about some things. I have a son now, and my kids played a big role in my consciousness because I wanted to be a dad. So I started thinking like a dad and started looking at things different.
RAH: And that’s after you got out. You were the sole caretaker of your father?
JC: I had to take care of my father. He was proud of that. My daughter had some issues later with leukemia, when she was 12 years old. It kind of pulled her away from me, and I struggled with that. Some things you just can’t hold on to, so you just have to let it work itself out. To me that’s a life lesson, because if we worry about things we can’t control — what good is that? What sense is that? Just stay positive.
RAH: And was that your attitude when you got out? When you saw your dad you were still a kid.
JC: I came home at 24. My dad was one of them people that loved attention. Now I am having to wipe my dad’s nose. And when I came out, I was one of those people that didn’t want attention. I wanted not to be looked at. But I had been muscular since I was a kid, so people look, and now I had to blow my dad’s nose and feed him in public. I wasn’t comfortable with that, but I love my dad. I had to get used that attention.
Our life wasn’t perfect but I knew when I came home, I would do right by him. My dad couldn’t do anything for me physically, but mentally he helped me every way he could. It was hard coming out and trying to start over. When he passed in 2005, he was keeping me straight mentally.
RAH: And how old were you when he passed?
JC: I was 32.
RAH: What led to you being homeless? You had been taking care of your father. Your daughter had leukemia. You have a young son. After your father passed — did you fall back to your old ways? You were dealing with a lot around this time.
JC: I couldn’t keep the house that we had in Newport News. Keep in mind, I never had a job — I was hustling. I had my son every day, and his mom only had him on weekends. When I got the job with the cable company, everything they taught me, I used that to better my situation for me and my son.
This is incriminating, but it’s the facts of my life. They taught me how to hook that cable up, and I used to sell it to people on the side. In my mind, it was better than selling drugs. That’s been my thing, like, I’ve been in survival mode since I was 10 years old and when I say I was a “hustler” — it wasn’t all the flashy stuff. It was strictly to survive. That’s been my mind state since I was young. It’s not to flight, it’s to fight.
So I move back to Richmond in 2014 and my ex left me in that year. So I am back here starting over again. I could’ve stayed with my aunt, but me being a man, I wasn’t going to do that. But God put me in this situation. My ex told me my son is going to stay with me over the summer and so I got a job. My friend got me a job at Legend at $8 an hour, and I walked every day to work and I got that apartment.
I had that apartment with my son for 6 months, and then child support locked me up. I lost that apartment and my son had to go back to Virginia Beach.
When I came home, Legend Brewing Company had kept that job for me. I’m just trying to keep this mindset that when I get out, I just want to get back to work. I just want to get everything back I lost. I want to get my son back.
I’m homeless when I come out of jail — I call myself homeless cause I was living out of my car in my aunt’s driveway. That’s where I felt comfortable.
Seven months later a car hit me. I was working two jobs and waiting on an apartment, which was owned by a person I was working for. The car hit me the day after Mother’s Day, and when I came home from the hospital, they still blessed me with an apartment. And that was where I was until later this year when somebody else bought the apartment, and they kicked me out — which led me to be back homeless once again, but this time my situation is totally different from before.
Now I haven’t worked in three years, nobody wants to rent me anything because I haven’t worked and disability has turned me down three times. Whatever God wants I need to stay focused on — I opened up a YMCA program for the kids and put all my energy into it — no matter what my situation was, I stayed focused on my training business, I had to put my energy into something instead of wondering what was what.
RAH: So Let’s go back. You were living in your car when the accident happened?
JC: I was living in my car at this point. I was just out after 7 months. I was working, I had just got a car, and I am happy. I went to Tidewater to see my son and his mother for Mother’s Day, spent the weekend down there — was just happy because my life was picking up. At eight o’clock in the morning I had just talked to my friend to pick me up to go to the gym, that’s why I am standing outside, waiting on him.
I look back at that video, and there is video — I can’t figure out why I went to the back door of my car to crack the window. It shows I walked around to the back and cracked that door and then just shut it — as soon as I shut it that car hit me and knocked me 50 feet up the street.
I never felt anything. I don’t remember getting hit.
When I came to, I didn’t know what was going on. I touched my dreads but there were staples in my head. My daughter said she told me numerous times I was in an accident but I just couldn’t remember. It didn’t dawn on me until I looked in the mirror after they took me out of the ICU and went to the bathroom. I cried for 3 days. Both of my legs were broke in half. I got rods.
RAH: What happened to the person that hit you?
JC: They put him in a home. His brain was like Swiss cheese and he wasn’t supposed to be driving. They told me if I wanted anything that I would have to sue his 94-year-old mother. I just looked at myself and said there is no way I could do that. And God has truly blessed me, I had no internal injuries and I am truly blessed.
RAH: And is that the attitude change you mentioned before? That after the accident, it wasn’t “why me?”
JC: I have to put this out there, but a lot of people in my family wish I was dead, because I have no brothers and sisters. I’m the only child. So when the hospital told my family that they thought I was gonna be a vegetable, and my cousin showed me the text messages, they were hoping I would die.
But I had to learn how to take the good from the bad. That car accident changed me for the better, because the stuff I used to worry about I can sit back and everything is different. Energy is everything, so what energy you put out is what you get back. My whole attitude has changed.
“That doesn’t mean a person is around forever; people are there for a season but most are there for a reason.”
RAH: You had to learn how to walk again, how to how to look at yourself again, how to eat, and you were homeless until 6 months ago. Then you started your business? What has been this last change?
JC: God set me down and make me realize what my problem was — I was trying to get everybody to love me when I did not love myself.
There’s some people that say “I love myself,” but I am looking at some of their actions and I can ask them, how much do you really love yourself? Because I had to ask myself this shit. I was put in a situation where I couldn’t even wash my ass, and nobody wanted to come over to help me wash it — but God allowed me to push through. I managed to make it. God sat me down and enabled me to watch people and understand.
All I ever wanted was motherly love, because my mama left me early. That don’t mean a person is around forever; people are there for a season, but most are there for a reason. I learned a lot of lessons. I’m grateful for life.
RAH: What would you like to tell people dealing with personal tragedy?
JC: I had to go through all that to change my thought process, to change me. And nothing is wrong with change — some people think it’s the worst thing in the world, but you have to change you to change your thought process. Once you become conscious of certain things, you will start moving different. Learn to love yourself. Once you love yourself, who gives a fuck how you are perceived.
RAH: John, thank you.
JC: Thanks so much.
Check out King John Coleman’s business HERE.
All photos by Kimberly Frost; you can see her work HERE.