The 24 To 30: #5 – Latisha Hambrick

by Just Juan

In April 2007, I remember writing in Triumphs & Tribulations VII about my excitement regarding a move from Moody Air Force Base and the Valdosta, Georgia area to Yokota Air Base and the Greater Tokyo Area. I also remember writing about my concerns with such a move. Where would I find a church home that I could get plugged in while getting fed the Word of God? Would I find quality friends I can relate to? Those were major concerns heading into the May 2007 relocation to Tokyo…so much so that I lost sleep a few nights thinking about it. But God is so good—and I’ll cover how much so in about 3 weeks—that he already had the answers for me. I quickly found a church home in Tokyo and a short time later, I found an unlikely quality friend that I could relate to. In today’s post to The 24 To 30 feature, I’ll cover the story of Latisha Hambrick…

THE BACKGROUND. My history with Latisha actually started through another person: a guy who worked sound at the church before me named LeTray. I hung out with him my first couple of months in Tokyo and worked sound with him at church. It was just after a mid-August Sunday service that he introduced me to Latisha ahead of an after church fellowship at Family Steakhouse near Ushihama Station. I had seen her around in church as she usually sat in the 2nd row on the left side. From my vantage—in the sound booth looking out upon the entire sanctuary—she seemed to carry herself with a certain kind of arrogance. That’s probably the reason why I never approached her at church before Tray intro’d us. In the initial encounter, however, she was very friendly. At the fellowship, which was headed up by one of the ministers at the church, I found out a lot more about her. She was from Chicago, a high school math teacher, and she was single…just like everybody in attendance except the minister and his wife. That was way off from my initial assumptions of her being from the West Coast and a stay-at-home wife. We got to know each other a little more before I bolted for my deployment in late August 2007. Upon my return in January 2008, she was one of the first people to greet me when I made my way back to the church. By this time, Tray had departed for another military assignment and my friendship with Latisha took off. Along with another one of the church singles, Petra, we hung out on Thursdays after bible study. It was during those times that Latisha introduced me to just about everything outside of the Yokota East Gate, in particularly the Diamond City Mall in nearby Musashimrayama. From there, Kuni Steakhouse, Cold Stone Creamery, and a few other places entered my world. Petra ended up leaving a short time later and her spot was filled by a newcomer named Adrian and the 3 Crazy Friends were born. Latisha, because she was older and had been living in Japan for exponentially longer, was the de facto leader of our crew. She introduced us to a lot of the hidden gems in Fussa and in Tokyo. It was her that hooked me up with the connect at au by KDDI, leading to me getting that ridiculously awesome cell phone plan. It was her that introduced me to the Suica card, which totally changed the way I get around on rails. It was her that got me into Japanese-styled food. Pretty much, it was her that got me comfortable with Japanese culture. She was a great host, too. On the few occasions she invited me over to her place for dinners and fellowships, she was always gracious. She made really good yakisoba, too. Even when the group dynamic changed in September 2008 and the 3 Crazy Friends crew went in pursuit of more personal goals, she still kept it close. She, in essence, came to be my big sister while I was in Japan and I loved her dearly like she was my own blood. I never hesitated to do favors for her as she never hesitated to return them. I’ll never forget that it was her that treated me to 2 of the very best birthday dinners I ever had in 2008 and 2009, respectively. I’ll never forget the look on her face after I presented her with a birthday cake in December 2008. Latisha was—and still is—one of my biggest supporters. In the back-to-back years of 2008 and 2009 that I missed promotion to Staff Sergeant by very small margins, she was just as frustrated about it as I was. When I found myself grief-stricken regarding my more disappointing moments of life, she was always there with something that would make me laugh or some uplifting Bible verse. Over time, she became one of my closest confidants. Latisha and I shared many great moments, conversations, and laughs as friends and siblings in Christ but the one I remember most happened on the evening of May 2, 2010. That was the night before I was set to leave Tokyo to return to the United States. As she would be instructing a class at the time I was scheduled to leave, we said our goodbyes the evening before. It was a long hug, by our standards. I thanked her for all that she did for me during my tour in Tokyo and I told her I’d miss her. As we were departing from each other’s company, I could see a tear come down her left cheek. In that moment, I realized that I may have had just as much an impact on her as she had on me. Today, me and Latisha are still really great friends. She’s one of the Elite 8…the collective label of my co-best friends and the closest non-related people in my circle.

THE MOMENT OF IMPACT. When it comes to impact moments in my dealings with Latisha Hambrick, there are plenty. But the one that comes to mind for me was back in March 2008. Instead of our usual after church trip to Kuni Steakhouse at Diamond City, she took me to this rather off the beaten path restaurant in Akishima called Sherlock Holmes. It was like 5 of us that afternoon and my meal alone cost ¥2180. As me and the others were about to pull out our yen to pay, Latisha grabbed the ticket and said “I got it”. I was so startled that I responded with a “you sure”. And in Latisha fashion, she countered with “Yes, An-Ju-Juan” and proceeded to pay for the food. That had to set her back ¥9500 at least but she didn’t sweat it. Her kindness that night actually jumpstarted the whole phase of me actually becoming the giver that I am today.

HOW IT GOT ME TO 30. Could I have got to 30 without Latisha? Yeah. But I can assure you I wouldn’t be who I am today without her place in my life. Latisha’s presence in my life made me more acceptable of my own uniqueness as a person…because she is truly a unique individual. She made it cool for me to be a Christian but to also be a real with who I really am…as a person. In typical big sister fashion, she always had something grand to pass along that changed my thinking. Her conversation with me about money and the “slave mentality” that most African-Americans have regarding it is the reason why I don’t worry about money as much as most do. In more ways than I can explain, she taught me to be a much better single person and she always seemed to find some kind of silver lining in my moments of disappointment. Latisha Hambrick…she’s one of the greatest people of all time.

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