HAMMOND | “It all started with Christmas. I remember sitting watching 'Charlie Brown' and 'A Christmas Story' on the TV and drinking egg nog with my little brother.”
Invoking memories of Christmases past growing up in Hammond, Andre Weems brought the message of “dream big” to 50 elementary school children from seven Boys & Girls Clubs at the 12th annual Holiday Party for Little Stars on Monday at the Indiana Welcome Center.
Weems, a 1991 Hammond High graduate, is the creator, writer and director of the animated series and comic strip “Bum Bum Jones.” The 39-year-old lives and works in New York City, where, he said, he went to follow his own dreams.
The party was sponsored by Majestic Star Casino, Strack & Van Til and The Boys & Girls Clubs of Northwest Indiana, and hosted by 10 Majestic Star community ambassadors, one from each department at the casino. Majestic Star team members purchased hundreds of gifts for youngsters attending the party, said Chareice White, Majestic Star spokesperson.
Prior to helping distribute the gifts, Weems told the children he was inspired by the holiday classic movie “A Christmas Story” written Jean Shepherd, also a Hammond native. Everyone at the party was surrounded by the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority's annual “A Christmas Story" Comes Home exhibit, a salute to Shepherd’s enduring remembrances of growing up in Hammond.
Weems moved to New York City in 2002 to pursue a career in music. After several years, he said, the music business “wasn’t creative enough.” An opportunity to provide post-production sound design and compose music for short films took him in a totally new direction, Weems said.
He started writing short stories, which he emailed to a girlfriend living in Florida.
“I didn’t know I had it in me,” Weems said in an interview before his talk.
“I went to a friend’s house in Brooklyn and he was still asleep at 4 p.m. I said ‘get up Bum Bum Jones,' and it hit me that that was the perfect name for a cartoon series that I had an idea for,” he said.
"Bum Bum Jones’" adventures blend elements of his childhood, including memories of Christmases in Hammond. “If Charlie Brown grew up and got married, he’d be Bum Bum Jones,” Weems said.
Other inspirations in his life include his own family, Weems said. An older brother, Alonzo Weems, showed him he could be a citizen of the world.
While Andre Weems was in high school, Alonzo Weems was a student at Wabash College, and spent his third year of college in Nairobi, Kenya. The following year, he was a member of a college glee club that traveled to Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand.
“He was going around the world,” Andre Weems said of his brother’s example.
During his talk with the children, Andre Weems told them that following their dreams would take getting their education, listening to their teachers and counselors and being proud of where they live.
“I got my start in Hammond, Indiana,” Weems said. “Just remember a young boy from Hammond who followed his dream to New York City.”