Jason Curry is a man with a mission. The Forest Park resident is the store manager who opened the LifeStorage facility located at 1800 Desplaines Ave. last April.
Part of Curry’s mission is to be a successful businessman by providing superior service at the 770-unit facility just north of Cermak Road.
“We have a five-star rating,” he said of the business, which is based in California and already has locations in 10 states, “because of the service we give you and the attention to detail we give all our tenants.”
Curry laid the foundation for his career in business by working at Radio Shack and then earning two MBA degrees, one in marketing and one in management, from St. Xavier University.
He manages LifeStorage with Kelly Johnson who started working at the facility four months ago.
“I was told that a person named Kelly was going to join me as co-manager the next day,” Curry recalled, laughing. “I thought Kelly was going to be a woman. Instead they send me this Marine.”
Unlike his business partner who took the academic route to get to his management position, Johnson enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating from high school in 1998, serving as a legal specialist. After leaving the Marines in 2007, he worked as a 911 dispatcher in Riverside, California. He returned to Illinois to be close to his father, who was seriously ill, and to qualify for certain veterans’ benefits and worked as an activities coordinator at the James Jordan Center in Chicago and a restaurant manager in Schaumburg.
To their surprise and delight, they discovered that they shared a passion for art and had both studied at the Art Institute in Chicago.
“That’s the cool thing about Kelly and me,” said Curry. “It’s almost like divine intervention — so strange how things worked out that we would work together.”
Creating art is, in a sense, also a part of their mission.
“I started going to DeVry to study project management,” Johnson recalled, “but soon realized it wasn’t for me because it didn’t feed my creative side. When I took my first class at the Art Institute, I knew this was the place for me.”
“I graduated from the Illinois Institute of Art in 2004 with a Bachelor in Fine Arts degree,” said Curry. “I’ve gone on job interviews and people would laugh when they saw that I have an art degree. There’s not much respect out there for art degrees, but it was more of a personal thing. I figured if I’m going to spend four years of my life getting a degree, I might as well spend those four years on something I’m passionate about.”
Curry did eventually get two business degrees because he had no desire to be a starving artist but also because he wanted to start his own business, which Curry, his brother, and his sister-in-law launched in 2011 under the name “Zoo High.”
“It’s a character-based clothing line,” he said. “We have a lot of original characters. We took a bunch of zoo animals, dressed them up in high school attire and had the characters printed on the clothing we sell. We have, for example, a character named Hydro. He’s a shark which we have dressed in a T-shirt and a varsity jacket.”
Johnson is working on two children’s book series. One is about a group of little people who live under a family’s sink called Meet the Silvertons, and the other features a superhero named Resurrection who fights on the side of God against evil. Although skilled at drawing portraits, Johnson’s work often takes the form of complex collages at which people can look for hours and still find something new.
“I love detail,” he explained. “If it’s too simple I don’t think it’s interesting.”
His artistic ability and imagination were evident as a young child.
“Growing up I could always draw,” said the ex-Marine. “I could look at a picture and draw it exactly as it was.”
Curry was also creative at an early age.
“In first grade,” he said, “we were supposed to draw a picture of what we did during the summer. Instead I drew Jana and Michael Jackson getting out of a stretch limo. I’ve always had this fascination — my mother would call it an obsession — with Jana Jackson. I’ve always had this creative element. I’ve been trained on the piano, trumpet and saxophone.”
The two co-managers, in many ways, live in parallel worlds, one business and the other creative. And that’s the way they like to keep it. The work at LifeStorage has clearly defined boundaries and structure. It is a way to pay the bills. They know at what time they start work and when they will go home where they can be creative.
Johnson and Curry live in yet another reality, the world of race. Both are African American and are well aware of how race colors, if you will, much of what goes on in our society.
“It’s no secret that racism exists,” said Johnson, “but in the end, if I have a strong business mind and a strong product, I think that will override any challenges I may face. My art speaks for itself. It’s a quality product.”
They also look at race from the perspective of faith. “I look at it like this,” Curry said. “As a child of God, who can stand against me?”
When asked what readers should know about them, Johnson replied, “They need to know that we are two positive men, and on top of that two positive black men, in an age where ignorance and negativity are broadcast everywhere.”
Curry added, “Kelly and I try to tear down stereotypes. I want you to know that I’m different from whatever your perception is. When you come in LifeStorage, we don’t want to be perceived as two black men. We want to be perceived as two men. My name is Jason and his name is Kelly. How can we help you?”