There was a moment in John Phillips’ trip to Ghana where he was being schooled in soccer by a group of boys.
He loved it.
There was a moment he helped a group of young men create a fictional basketball team whose mission included giving back.
He loved it.
Then came a moment he was saying goodbye to a group of children who enveloped him in a cascade of hugs with open arms and open hearts.
He loved it.
The Jacksonville attorney spent three days in West Africa last month at a PeaceJam conference to help build teenagers into leaders who could transform their communities.
He spent time teaching them, he said, but mostly learning from them. Learning they lived in a village where there is “nothing but love.” It reminded Phillips that both hate and racism are learned behaviors.
An online charity auction provided the life-changing experience for Phillips.
It was a trip he wanted to take because of his ties to 17-year-old Jordan Davis, whose family he represented after the teenager was shot and killed in November 2012 in an argument over loud music.
It was a trip where he was able to spend hours talking with a Nobel Peace Prize winner he was familiar with because of Jordan.
If that wasn’t enough, he was surprisingly at the same conference with three other people from Jacksonville who knew Jordan’s story.
It was another sign Phillips is being influenced by a teenager he never met.
Phillips first became familiar with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee through his interactions with documentary filmmaker Abby Disney. (She is the grandniece of Walt Disney.)
Disney contacted Phillips after Jordan’s death to talk about "The Armor of Light," a film she was working on that examines gun violence in America.
As a way to introduce her work to Phillips, she sent him a copy of “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” which chronicles Gbowee’s leadership in the role women played in bringing peace to her native Liberia.
Phillips watched the film and was in awe of Gbowee’s work.
When he saw an online charity auction for the PeaceJam conference featuring Gbowee, he immediately bid on it. For three weeks, he consistently checked the website to make sure he wasn’t outbid.
In the end, his $7,500 bid was enough to get him the trip and the chance to meet Gbowee.
Over the three days in Accra, Phillips spent seven hours talking with her and learning about her humanitarian efforts.
That was a meeting he was expecting.
One he wasn’t expecting came when he met a woman named Megan, a teacher who was hosting a workshop at the conference. Their quick introduction came with only first names.
Not long after that, the man Megan knew as John was introduced before he talked to a group about finding inspiration in unexpected places.
Megan Jackson was stunned when John turned out to be John Phillips from Jacksonville.
Not only were they from the same city, she knew exactly who he was.
Jackson knew about Phillips’ work with the Davis family. Phillips said Jackson was two blocks from the convenience store the night Jordan was killed.
To add to the coincidence, Jackson’s husband was an intern in the State Attorney’s Office as the murder case was moving through court. (He is now an assistant state attorney.)
Jackson said her husband has “mad respect” for Phillips.
As Phillips began his talk, he had a request for the group: Every time he said Jordan Davis, he wanted them to say “may he rest in peace.”
It was a technique other speakers had used and helps keep the audience engaged. It was far more than that for Phillips.
Each time the students said “may he rest in peace,” you could see in a video of his speech the emotion sweep over his face.
As he described it last week, it was even more evident. He struggled to share what it meant to him, but the tears showed it.
And the tears came again as he recounted the audience showing affection by flashing the “I love you” sign.
It was one of the many special and unforgettable moments for him on the trip.
A trip where moment after moment, he was feeling, he was loving, he was changing.
And he loved it.