Brooklyn Center counselor Jason Clopton earned his “Teen Whisperer” moniker by gaining the trust of young people. “Jason spoke the language, so he was able to crack a code that a lot of us parents could not,” said Sheletta Brundidge, who tapped Clopton to host a show on her podcast network. “He destigmatized mental health for Black kids.”
Clopton, who died on Aug. 19 at age 37 after having been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) last year, also helped parents. Whether he was offering advice on how to talk about racism, or decipher secret social media codes, Clopton began each episode by reminding moms and dads, “You are not the problem, but you are part of the solution.”
Clopton grew up mostly in Brooklyn Park and met his future wife, Maria, through mutual friends, at age 19. He wooed Maria by surreptitiously dropping by the coffee shop where she worked.
“I made this drink, and I realized someone didn’t pick it up,” Maria recalled. “And a lady I worked with was like, ‘Oh, this really nice guy came in and said he was ordering you a drink and not to say anything.’ ” Maria guessed, correctly, that the mystery man was Clopton. “He did so many sweet things,” she said.
Clopton was known as a family man and, as the parent of three daughters, a devoted “dance dad” who cheered on every performance. His ability to relate to people and make them laugh helped him form deep connections with everyone he met.
“He could turn a complete stranger or an acquaintance into a true friend,” Maria said. “He was one of those people you start talking to and, next thing you know, you’ve told him your whole life story because you feel so comfortable.”
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Clopton worked in education before focusing on counseling teens and their families. His impact on young people was reflected in the numerous condolence messages Maria received from her husband’s former students and counseling clients.
Parents, too, benefited from Clopton’s communication skills. “He helped parents with having those uncomfortable or difficult conversations where you just don’t even know how to start,” Maria said. “And he helped with responses to what their kids might tell them and also reading body language and nonverbal tones.”
Brundidge said that Clopton strengthened her son’s mental health through therapy sessions and also changed the way she parented.
“I’m old-school Southern Mama,” Brundidge said, explaining the childrearing approach she inherited: “Kids need to be quiet. You’re going to listen, or you’re gonna get it. It was like, ‘We’re running from the Klan, we don’t have time for your damn feelings.’ “
Clopton encouraged Brundidge to listen to her son: “Jason said, ‘He gets to have feelings, and if he wants to talk about them, you have to respect that.’ “
Clopton made it OK to say you weren’t OK. “In the Black community, that’s a sign of weakness,” Brundidge said, describing a common parental attitude as: “Your ancestors went through slavery, and you can’t handle a girl not liking you?”
The emotional toolkit that Clopton gave teens will serve them for the rest of their lives. And his podcast will continue to educate and support their parents. “It’s his legacy,” Brundidge said.
In addition to his wife, Maria, Clopton’s survivors include daughters Journey, Jalecia and Harmonee; siblings Jasmine Clopton, DeAndria Clopton, Kianna Wright, Taylor Wright, Demetrius Clopton, Deon Clopton and Elijah Wright III; and parents Kelly Wright and Darryl Clopton. Services have been held.
Rachel Hutton is a general assignment reporter in features for the Star Tribune.
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