Student beats all odds and prospers


Violent flashbacks of loud screams and gunshots choke off his first words. As if reliving every flesh-piercing wound he withstood, the young man tightens his eyes from the horror that surrounded him on the night of Feb. 6. He had been a promoter for a talent showcase at Big Daddy’s Import Drafthouse on Tennessee Street for more than a year. But that night’s showcase was special. He had recently accepted a director of communications position with multi-millionaire James Wright Jr., chief executive officer of Wright Brain Ventures in Atlanta.

 This was his farewell, and supporters poured in to Tallahassee for the event. At nearly 2 a.m. the crowd was still multiplying. More than 20 minutes after the club was legally closed for business, Charles Gee was still in the club working. Several artists did not get a chance to perform because of time constraints, and Gee was doling out refunds and apologies. 

  “It was way bigger than I thought so I had to give people their money back because the event just got way too packed,” said Gee.

 While returning the $25 fee he charged all artists to cover the entry fees for the artists and their entourage, Gee got into a confrontation with a local artist who did not get to perform. The man, 22-year-old Jabar Chestnut, wanted more than the apology and refund Gee had to offer. 

 “Me and this guy got into this back and forth, and I was like, ‘come on dude you’re not going to disrespect me at my event,’ ” Gee recalled, before taking a brief pause to collect his thoughts. ” ‘Now I’m going to give you your money back. I’m going to let you perform for free at the next one. I’m going to accommodate you the best I can, and I’m apologizing.’ “

 His voice is raspy, almost hoarse, so he has to strain his voice to simulate the crowd’s attempts to defuse the confrontation. 

 “People had started to crowd around and they were yelling, ‘Hey! Hey! We don’t need any of that in here’!” said Gee. Then his tone and eyes lowered as he revealed what happened next. “By the time they got close enough the gun was out. He had already made up his mind that he was going to shoot me. I got shot two or three times before I knew who was shot.”

 The next thing Gee recalled is lying on the ground, face toward heaven, pondering the intricacies of what he believed to be his final prayer. A strong gust of cool, February air pulled tears from his eyes as Gee said he was making his internal peace with God. 

  “I said my prayer, and my prayer was simple,” he remembered. “Lord, forgive me for my sins because I know I had committed some sins since the last time I prayed. Lord accept me into your kingdom; I wanted to go to heaven. And I was just thankful, thankful for my life.”

 Gee took six shots at close range: twice in the neck, one in both pectorals, one in his left side, another in the kidney area and one in the lower back.

 After his prayer, Gee attempted to close his eyes for, what he figured would be, the final time.

 I said “Oh Lord, hold up because if this is my last go around, I want it to be perfect,'” Gee said while bursting into laughter. “I was taught growing up in the church that you have to say ‘And I ask for these thing in the name of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen,’ but I didn’t say that. I just said Amen.”

 In hindsight, his second speedy prayer with the correct ending is a subject of great comedy. He laughs long and hard then remembers the first thoughts he had after he realized that he was not going to die.

 “I get in the ambulance, and I’m lying on my back in an ambulance staring at the ceiling, and I’m thinking about my life going forward and what is the first thing you think I wanted to do after I had been shot all over my body and hadn’t died yet?” Gee questioned the small audience congregating to hear of his brush with death. “I started wiggling my toes to make sure I wasn’t paralyzed.”

 He mimicked the glee he experienced in the ambulance when he realized he had not suffered any immediate signs of paralysis.

 “I’m still walking!” Gee says happily. “If I come out this thing, I’m walking out.”

 Gee did not have to go through any extensive physical therapy. He said he does not wish any ill will on Chestnut and does not spend much of his efforts focusing on past trials. Chestnut is currently incarcerated in Leon County Jail.

 A deep sigh escapes as he tilts his head back and stares at the pale office roof. The brim of his fitted-hat casts a shadow over his eyes as they scan the ceiling for the explanation to a careless act of violence. The reasons why Chestnut, or anyone else, would try to kill him still puzzles Gee; however, his past had to well how to bounce back from adversity.

 In December 2009, Charles Gee was finishing his final semester at Florida A&M University. He had graduated from Shanks High School in Quincy more than 10 years earlier. After a brief stint in the United States Air Force and failed attempts at running a recording studio and record label from offices on Brevard and Tennessee streets, Gee says he was ready to make a change.

  “My mom said ‘Charles you have to finish something. You have to accomplish something.’ I’ll start a business, and the business would go bankrupt,” said Gee. “I’d go to school then stop going to school; I wasn’t finishing anything.”

 His business mishaps and shaky personal projects did little to slow his academic influences from pushing him toward becoming a stellar student. Valerie White, assistant professor of journalism, proved to be Gee’s toughest critique and pivotal role player in his academic matriculation.

 “I failed him twice,” White professed about awarding Gee his only failing grades in his entire academic career. “I was on him but he had excuse after excuse. I was just tired of his excuses, and I just kept telling him ‘you have to handle your business Mr. Gee.'”

 He eventually bought in to White’s suggestions. As a senior, Gee’s skills behind a camera began to progress, and he started to experience mild success as a student journalist. 

 “I found myself becoming more humble,” Gee says. “I went from owning a nine-office suite and a studio office Downtown to working the front desk at the Super 8 at night from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and going to class at 8 a.m.”  

 The late night shifts and early classes helped Gee grow as a person and student. His pilot was preselected to appear at the school Documentary Night, an end-of-the-semester showcase of student-produced video documentaries. However, Gee was robbed.

 “The day came to submit our scripts for doc night, but the night before the Super 8 got robbed. I had a gun held to my head,” Gee recalls. He remembers completing hours of routine paperwork and questioning about the incident before rushing to the school. This time Gee saved his excuses, and after a brief extension from his professor, he turned in his package. 

“He didn’t give me too much time. He said go home shake the jitters off, take a shower, but you have until the next day to get me the full script,” said Gee. “I was selected, and just judging by the professors and the people who were at doc night, we put on a show.”

 He beams while travelling through the memories of his final semester. He raced through the detailed accounts of the pleasant moments before arriving again at that deep sigh of confusion, at the moment that changed his life forever.  

 A moment he walked out of after only three days under the care of physicians at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. Ella Gee, Charles’ mother, ushered her only son home. Although he walked out without any major injuries, Ella noticed an immediate change in Charles. 

 “He went into a shell, and even now he doesn’t seem like the same person,” said Ella. “It did something to him emotionally. He doesn’t talk as much now, but I thought it was because of his voice before I noticed the change in his personality.”

 Gee had gotten more serious about his time. He says he wanted to do more to make an impact in his community. Efforts he admittedly put off for later now became his first priority.

 “I felt like if I was walking if I was talking and I was breathing, I wanted to do everything I could,” said Gee. “I didn’t want to be lying down on that floor again thinking, ‘Man I didn’t do everything I wanted to do.'”

 He cancelled his plans to move to Atlanta for the job and immediately got back to his film-work. He directed a documentary which was showcased at the Tallahassee Film Festival. Also at the festival, he and a fellow FAMU student won best 48-hour student documentary. 

 He has focused more toward the youth in Gadsden and Leon counties. He has been an active youth motivator, and has started working toward the establishment of his own non-profit geared at bringing technological advancements to the rural areas. 

 “I want to start in Gadsden and eventually branch out because I have some unfinished business here helping young kids in Gadsden County through this non-profit organization,” said Gee. “The organization is called R.E.D. It stands for three things: you’re going to Revolutionize something, Evolve from something or Dissolve because you didn’t do either of the first two.”

 Akin-Remi Sawyer, his friend since high school, lives in Atlanta and was helping Gee find an apartment for his big move. Sawyer was surprised by the change but backed his friend’s decision.

 “As long as I have known Chuck he has always had that ‘go-getter’ mentality, and he is going to get done whatever it is that he wants to get done,” said Sawyer about his friend’s new initiative. “That’s a good thing because when you have someone around you so determined to get something for themselves that kind of attitude rubs off on other people.”

 Gee said he is working to be a better man and role model to ensure that the people he interacts with receive positive influences. His future keeps him busy enough.

 “I only have a few goals in life. I want my mom to be proud of me. I want to build her a house. And I want to have children and raise them to be better than I am,’ said Gee. “That to me would be a successful life that I could die happy with because at the end of the day I just want to be a better man.”