The Beats and Bars Festival panels were an example of some of the best of what Durham can be and is: organic and intentional sharing of knowledge. However, the room needed a few more young folks.
When I walked into The Vault beneath the Palace International and Joe Van Gogh where the panels were being held, there were probably thirty-five heads in the room. I sat down in an empty chair next to poet and community leader Dasan Ahanu. Eric Tullis of the Indy Week was there. (I hope he writes about what he heard.) Besides Tullis, maybe seven or eight of the thirty-five people there were associated with press. Besides the media, five or six folks, like Dasan, were on one of the panels. Four or five others were volunteers.
But before I even had a chance to wrap my head around those numbers and what it meant for real audience attendance, Dasan was asking the panel that was already seated about mentoring and connecting young artists to mentors. Dasan noted experienced artists are familiar with work and process. Successful creatives know that while we may pull ideas out of the mysterious nether, they come to fruition through hard work, collaboration, and step-by-step processes that lead to completion.
Dasan, after outlining these realities, challenged the panel, I’m paraphrasing—“How do we offer up this experience, this reality to young artists? How do we show them that it is artists who show up, who put in the work, who are successful…” Dasan went on to say that all too frequently young artists who aren’t quickly successful in this culture which venerates the now, start saying “It can’t be done.” – “It ain’t possible.” – “Nobody cares.”
Again, I’d barely settled in my chair and these were the issues floating in the air.
The next person who questioned the panel, a volunteer, dropped it even harder, continuing with some of the same themes as Dasan, connecting members of the community, especially youth, with the knowledge of their forebears. He was an Underground Collective volunteer. Sharing about his personal experience, he said that he had done five years in prison, and that he knew a lot of smart men in prison. He said he believed that most men who were in prison were there because they didn’t know how to communicate and pride. He added pride at the end of his thought, but it was clear he believed a lack of communication and pride were interconnected.
The gravely baritone picked up again, he said “I didn’t” and “most [men] I knew didn’t know how to ask for help.” Didn’t know how to communicate. Didn’t know how to ask for help.
He went on to deepen the connection between pride, communication, and mentoring. He declared that panels like this, we were sitting in the bricked in basement of The Vault for a panel called, “The Business of Beatmaking”, were an amazing way to spread knowledge.
I took a deep breath.
The next question was about branding and a specific discussion of The Roots endorsement campaign for Hennessy cognac ensued. This was a topic that someone probably could have, and may have, dropped a dissertation on. Just for the tiny tip of the iceberg, keep in mind, The Roots’ Black Thought (Tariq) is Muslim and doesn’t drink.
At the break between panels I talked to the moderator, DJ Salmon. He was already thinking about next year’s Beats and Bars Festival. How could they get more young people to attend these panels? Plenty of young people were at the shows at The Pinhook, but here were experts dishing the kind of practical knowledge that young musicians, entertainers, and promoter/managers need to be steeped in, yet there was a paucity of folks under twenty-five.
One of the more successful youth intervention innovators I have observed, Otis Lyons, aka Vegas Don, the leader of the Campaign 4 Change, has had success picking kids up. The Campaign 4 Change has an organizational vehicle that picks kids up for events like a church van might.
Salmon also mooted that the Beats and Bars Festival, with The Underground Collective, the parent organization, might find ways to partner with schools next year. He suggested it might be possible for whole classes of kids to attend panels. Or that if Saturdays proved a prohibitive problem, perhaps panelists could be guest speakers at schools.
In my mind, I imagined programs like this going to Hillside, Southern, DSA, Riverside, y mas, y mas.
Durham is at our best, when we are at our most collaborative. Google has demonstrated that this is likely true for humanity, too.
These Beats and Bars panels were a great snapshot of how we can make that happen. I would also note they took place without government support or sanction, arranged and funded entirely by private individuals.
Next month, I would imagine the same kind of knowledge dropping, learning experience will take place at The American Underground’s Black Wall Street Homecoming.