The video of Jamaica's singing is what touched Joeseph Ricketts.

A Davenport artist, Ricketts read a February Quad-City Times profile of 21-year-old Frank "Jamaica" Wilkens, who had been performing at the Homeless Open Mic Project at a Davenport church.

Jamaica's story began with his boyhood adoption and upbringing in Morrison, Ill., where he learned basic guitar chords from his pastor. When his first year at Sauk Valley College ended in a campus fight, he moved to Bettendorf to live with his sister. But a conflict got him kicked out, and Jamaica ran out of options.

He wound up at the Humility of Mary homeless shelter. In part to come to terms with his new reality and, in part, to express it, he wrote songs.

With the guitar he borrowed from his sister, Jamaica became a popular performer at the once-a-month Open Mic afternoon at The Center at St. John's United Methodist Church.

Ricketts read his story, clicked on the video of Jamaica's performance on the Times' website and was instantly moved.

"I used to be a bad guy," Ricketts said. "One day, I decided to be a good guy. I had to pay 1,000 deeds. I did that some time ago. Now, I just enjoy it."

He remembered the guitar his kids bought him for Christmas many years ago. He learned to play a couple of songs, but he preferred spending his time on his artwork. The guitar just sat in a corner, he said.

He didn't flinch at the decision: He would give the guitar to Jamaica.

But Ricketts wanted to make sure it was in good playing condition. He took the guitar and case to Music Go Round in Davenport to have it properly tuned.

"For a little extra money — I don't want to say how much — I upgraded to a bit nicer guitar," he said. "It was a good trade, and I think he'll get a lot of use out of this one."

At The Center on Monday, the two men met.

After finishing his four-song set, Jamaica was asked to remain on stage, and Ricketts was escorted to the mic. Together, they opened the guitar case.

"I'm so excited!" Jamaica beamed.

A table of four other homeless performers sprang to their feet, smiling through a standing ovation.

Told that Ricketts figured he needed his own guitar, Jamaica ran his hand along the neck, turning it over to admire the glowing finish.

"I did," he said. "I did. I really did."

Ricketts pointed out the Iowa Hawkeyes hat and scarf he had tucked inside the guitar case, along with some sheet music.

"Oh! The Eagles!" Jamaica exclaimed, picking up the music. "This is so nice. This is just beautiful."

Since his story was published at the end of February, Jamaica said, he has reconnected with his parents.

"I'm thinking a lot about school and a job and music," he said. "I'm at a crossroads."

As he walked to his car in The Center's parking lot, Ricketts was still smiling.

"That was great," he said. "He was really happy. I think Jamaica was really happy and surprised. Man, that was great."

(4) comments


I love everything about this story. I can't stop smiling. Thank you, Mr. Ricketts, for paying forward the gift of music. I am sure Mr. Wilkens will treasure it and your kindness for a long time to come. Bless you both <3

Mary Louise Speer

Great writing Barb. This is a very touching story!


What an awesome deed Mr. Ricketts may god bless you for your kindness!


how would I get ahold of Jamaica? I have a job I might be able to get him in to if he does his part and shows up...

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