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Facey: (adjective) When someone’s face can be seen everywhere. — Urban Dictionary, top definition Jason Facey, ’14: choreographer, actor, motivational speaker, and dancer who toured nationally with Gwen Stefani. (See above.)

Photo by Anya Chibis

It’s the last Wednesday in May, and Jason Facey, ’14, is flying out of Los Angeles to dance with Gwen Stefani — one of several pop star royalty headlining at Wal-Mart Stores’ infamous annual shareholder meeting. As far as hump days go, Facey is having a good one, and his week will only get better. On June 2, more than 14,000 shareholders and guests will pack the Bud Walton Arena to cheer on Blake Shelton, Mary J. Blige, Ne-Yo, The Band Perry, and Stefani — the latter joined on stage by Facey, a lead dancer on her 2016 North American tour. “What kind of life is this! Performing for thousands,” says Facey, a quick laugh punctuating his Jamaican accent.

His star is clearly on the rise. Soon after graduating from Southern with a degree in communication and a minor in theatre, Facey came to LA for an internship with the Hallmark Channel arranged by the university’s Department of Communication. Since then his career has unfolded like the plot of a feel-good movie. It’s a musical, one that begins in a small home in Saint Mary, Jamaica, where Facey was born in 1989. He elaborates: “I was born inside of that house not in a hospital. The entire house is about the same size as two dorm rooms put together. My whole family lived there.”

Facey found his passion for performing at an early age. A DJ was playing at a community gathering, and the then 4-year-old talent was dancing his heart out. Gradually everyone stopped to watch. “I remember thinking, ‘This is all right!’” he says, before turning serious. “Music and dance were our escape in Jamaica. It took us away from the poverty we were facing.”

Facey came to the U.S. at the age of 11 with his older brother, joining family in Hartford.  “It wasn’t difficult, but then again it was,” he says, recalling efforts to downplay his Jamaican roots. He was held back twice in fifth grade while learning English, but took the momentary set back in stride. “If that hadn’t happened, I would not be where I am today,” says Facey, who opted to attend Hartford’s Classical Magnet school. The challenging college-prep curriculum focuses on the classics and liberal arts in the middle grades and high school — and includes an award-winning theater program.

Jason Facey, '14, hit the road with Gwen Stefani's national tour and has worked with Alicia Keys, WizKid, Major Lazer, and Pharell.
Jason Facey, ’14, hit the road with Gwen Stefani’s national tour (above) and has worked with Alicia Keys, WizKid, Major Lazer, and Pharell. That’s Facey with country star Blake Shelton at the far right. Photos: Anya Chibis and supplied by Facey

At Classical Magnet, Facey caught the attention of then eighth grade teacher Marydell Merrill, M.S. ’08, who encouraged him to try out for the school production of “A Raisin in the Sun.” “I tried out because of her, but only for the smallest role —  about five lines,” says Facey, who has a speech impediment — a stutter. He got the role and Merrill also named him the understudy for the lead. When said lead was later kicked out of the production, Facey rose to the occasion. “On the day of the show, I figured it out. I don’t stutter at all when I act,” he says.

Soon after he landed the first of numerous roles in Hartford Stage’s summer productions of Breakdancing Shakespeare, which combine the Bard of Avon’s works with breakdancing and hip-hop.

Facey applied to Southern at the suggestion of his high school soccer coach, whose brother had attended the university. At Southern, he joined the Crescent Players and continued acting, his first role playing Cassius in “Othello.”

Still something was lacking. “I was used to dancing every day, whether at a party or for Hartford Stage. I didn’t know dancing was a career choice, but I knew I missed it,” he says. In 2009, he teamed up with three other Southern students —Isaiah Lyte, ’11, Jesse Kroll, ’14, and Muonia Wiley —  to start the university’s Symphonic Pulse Dance Company (SPDC). The group, which blends different genres of dance including hip-hop and street-style, is still going strong today.

Facey’s internship with the Hallmark Channel was another college highpoint. “It showed me a whole new world. I learned what goes into making a movie — and I learned that acting is what I want to do,” he says.

He stayed in Los Angeles when the internship ended, and was working at a city call center when he had an epiphany. “I remember thinking, ‘What am I doing here. I have a college degree and I have talent.’” He drew up a list of goals: Get acting and dance agents; work as a motivational speaker; and build the ‘So Facey’ brand, playing off his surname.

“I see Facey as standing for ‘Faithfully Accomplishing Challenges Every Year,’” he explains.

He also kept dancing, letting off steam at Federal Bar, a North Hollywood club that holds throw-back Thursday dance nights. Facey doesn’t drink or smoke. He does, however, “dance like crazy,” and at the urging of a club friend decided to try out for a video. Then fate stepped in. “The choreographer at the audition was Fatima. The. Legendary. Fatima. She has worked with everyone,” says Facey of the famed artist who has collaborated with Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears, the Black Eyed Peas, Usher, Prince, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, Mary J. Blige, and others.

Fatima, named one of Entertainment Weekly’s “100 Most Creative People in Entertainment,” saw something in Facey, and gave him and the two friends he auditioned with roles in Pharrell Williams’ ”Freedom” video. It was Facey’s big break. He was signed to a major agency; performed at the BET [Black Entertainment Television] Awards and the Video Music Awards; and booked a commercial for Comcast Xfinity.

Jason Facey, '14, dancing on the street in LA

Then Gwen Stefani entered the picture. Facey was signed as a lead dancer in her “Misery” video, and went on to tour nationally with the star, traveling across the U.S. and Canada from July through November 2016. He continues to perform with her as needed and has nothing but praise for his experience on the road with Stefani: “She’s an artist in the truest sense — awesome and adorable. She’s very talented but also very down to earth. She has spent years working incredibly hard to be standing in the light she’s in today,” he says.

Facey’s own light is shining brightly. In addition to dancing, he hopes to break into acting. “I’ve used skills gained at Southern in video production to promote myself,” he says of a series of short comic skits he’s produced. “I’ve had about 12 go over a million views,” he says of the videos, many of which play on his Jamaican roots and dance talents. [Be warned, some are racy and include explicit language.]

He’s also moved on to motivational speaking, incorporating dance in his presentations. “I love the idea of being able to inspire somebody the way that I was inspired . . . to do what Ms. Merrill did for me,” he says of his former theater teacher.

Facey has reached another milestone, appearing in a national advertisement for Old Navy. In the spot, a traffic light is the site of an impromptu dance party. Facey kicks off the action, launching himself off the front of a car in to the street.

Meanwhile, he continues to dance. In addition to teaching classes, he is studying dance — something the self-taught performer hadn’t done before coming to LA. And while nothing thrills like booking a performance with the likes of Alicia Keys, WizKid, and Major Lazer, he says he’ll always dance for the joy of it. “I still love it,” he says of hitting the club. “It is the only thing I can control 100 percent . . . where no one can tell me what to do. I was always a freestyler.”

Cover graphic for Southern Alumni Magazine, Fall 2017 issue

Owl pride is running sky high thanks to a growing list of accomplishments that position Southern among the best. Here are some of the university’s many exciting achievements and initiatives.

Owl Pride graphic with Otis and banner

Banners with point of pride

* Southern’s student-faculty ratio is 14:1, the lowest among public universities in the state.

* Students receive free supplemental instruction, tutoring and academic success coaching in topics such as time management and study strategies at Southern’s Academic Success Center. There were 30,000 visits in 2016-17.

* 150-plus student clubs and organizations offer a wealth of opportunity to students.

* Southern is home to the CSCU** Center for Nanotechnology, the only system-wide center for the field in the state.

* Sierra Magazine has repeatedly included Southern on its list of “Cool Schools,” a list of America’s greenest universities.

* In 2016, Southern partnered with CARE (the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement), which was founded at Yale University in 2007. In the following three years, CARE is transitioning from Yale to SCSU’s campus — with Southern becoming responsible for CARE’s community engagement work. Yale will continue to manage and finance CARE’s research agenda while gradually shifting that work to Southern.

* In November 2017, Southern celebrated Social Justice Month with almost 100 events, all designed to further social justice education and awareness on campus.

* The Werth Center for Coastal and Marine Studies is the only CSCU** center dedicated to faculty-mentored student research that addresses environmental issues along the Connecticut shoreline and Long Island Sound.

* In the past three years, 100 percent of students in Southern’s accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program passed the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination) the first time — a record that significantly surpasses all other accelerated nursing programs in the state. (State of Connecticut Department of Public Health, May 2017)

* Southern is one of only five colleges and universities to receive the “Excellence in Assessment” designation this year. To date, only 15 have received the designation, which recognizes those who most effectively use data to enhance student performance.

* Alumna Jahana Hayes, ’05 is the 2016 National Teacher of the Year. Southern graduates also swept many of the state’s top teaching awards for 2016, earning honors as Connecticut’s “Best of the Year” in the superintendent, teacher, school counselor, and many other categories. Most recently, alumnus Dan Kahl was named the state’s “Adaptive Physical Education Teacher of the Year.”

* A Southern team was a semi-finalist in the 2017 American Marketing Association’s Collegiate Case Competition. Southern was the only institution of higher learning in Connecticut to score among the semi-finalists and finalists — and joined Providence College as one of only two in all of New England.

* There are 11,000 students members in the American Marketing Association (AMA), and recent graduate Julia Rotella,’17, was one of the best, finishing second in the organization’s 2017 “Student Marketer of the Year” competition.

* Southern is an NCAA Division II athletics powerhouse, having earned 79 team championships and ten individual championships.

* In fall 2016, Southern’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists was named the “Outstanding Campus Chapter” for region 1, which includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

* Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification was awarded to two campus buildings: the new science building and the home for the School of Business. The certification recognizes construction and design meeting exceptional ecological standards.

* Two Southern graduates are among a total of only 10 librarians chosen from throughout the U.S. to receive the 2016 “I Love My Librarian Award,” sponsored by the American Library Association.

* Southern will provide residential leadership scholarships that cover housing expenses for 10 incoming New Haven Promise scholars beginning next fall. The selected students — known as Promise Community Ambassadors — will mentor Southern’s New Haven Promise scholars and high school students in the New Haven Public Schools. As of December 2017, Southern has had more New Haven Promise scholars (339) than any other university.

* Southern previously was recognized at the White House Summit on Computer Science for All.

* The university has been building communities and empowering lives for almost 125 years. Get ready to celebrate Southern’s anniversary in 2018!

**Connecticut State Colleges and Universities

Cover graphic for Southern Alumni Magazine, Fall 2017 issue