By Claire Harlin
James Morris, a senior at Cathedral Catholic High School in Carmel Valley, has made a name for himself as a musician, producing four albums and performing on the 2012 Vans Warped Tour. He’s also contributed more than 1,000 hours of service raising more than $15,000 for the Chadwick Center at Rady Children’s Hospital through his very own charity organization, Earn Your Wings. But on Feb. 23 at Canyon Crest Academy, the 18-year-old will take on a new leadership role, joining the ranks of several New York Times best-selling authors as a speaker at the school’s second annual writer’s conference.
Morris will be talking about how he intertwines his novel writing and songwriting at the free event, which will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the school’s media center, located at 5951 Village Center Loop Road. He will also be selling and discussing his new science fiction book, “Skybound,” which is part of a trilogy he plans to write, he said.
Morris said he was an avid reader turned author, and self-published the book after constructing a manuscript in only six months.
“My room is like a library,” he said. “I have so many books but had run out of books to read, so I thought, ‘There should be a book like this,’ and so I wrote and wrote for six months and then I was like, ‘Wow, I think just wrote a book.’”
The futuristic novel stars a man who lives in a world of three kingdoms — life on the surface, in the clouds and underground, he said. The protagonist escapes to the sky nation and ends up in a bloody revolution, evolving to learn a lesson about trying to go to a better place and eventually learning the only way to make the world a better place comes from within.
“If you want to change the world, you can’t wait on anyone else,” said Morris. “You have to do it yourself.”
That’s exactly the message Morris hopes to shares through his charity organization, Earn Your Wings, and one of his several styles of charity bracelets, which he sells for $5 each to raise money for the Chadwick Center, says just that — “Be the difference.”
Morris’ child advocacy efforts and fundraising for the Chadwick Center for Children & Families, which is dedicated to caring for victims of family violence and child abuse, began when he became inspired by a presentation by Missing Persons Foundation founder Jannel Rapp at a music conference about five years ago, he said.
“She was saying, ‘If only I could find a high school student to help spread the word among youth,’” said Morris, a freshman at the time. “So I stood up and said, ‘I’ll do it,’ and I talked to her afterward and it all started from there.”
Morris is trying to use music as an approach to grassroots outreach. He raises funds at every concert he plays around San Diego, at venues such as SOMA, Epicenter or the House of Blues. He has also raffled off a six-foot-tall teddy bear at several shows, which raises about $200 or more each time. Working with the Alicia Project, Morris is currently helping promote a poster contest that asks kids worldwide to illustrate “What Safe Looks Like.” The contest is in its second year and has already secured a corporate sponsorship to award prizes.
Morris said he taught himself how to play the guitar at age 13, and fell in love with music. He describes his own music as alternative rock, inspired by his own life, he said.
“I write real songs with real meanings to me,” he said. “They are based on my own personal experiences.”
Between his charitable work, books and music, he said he stays pretty busy — OK, “partially insane,” he jokes.
“I love all of it and couldn’t see my life without any of it,” he said, adding that he has been lucky to have the blessing of his school’s directors when his absences must be excused or homework made up.
“It’s definitely tough, but I manage to work through it and maintain my grades,” he said, adding that he will soon be doing school visits in Carmel Valley, Poway, Del Mar and several other areas to educate about issues facing kids and promote the poster contest. He has also done local visits to shelters for kids and teens, acting as a counselor and guest for a day and putting on special concerts for at-risk youth. Morris also helped organize the “Keep Kids Safe” town hall forum held Jan. 30 at Cathedral Catholic High School.
“Just my talking to them and listening, it really brightens the day for them,” he said.
For more information on Morris or the “What Safe Looks Like” poster contest, visit