“Any of my local Blues Brothers or Sister have (any) free time between 5pm-9pm this Sunday?”
The Facebook message above, posted by local blues icon Marquise Knox, means a lot to me. Knox, who hosted a fundraiser for the Sweet Potato Project (SPP) last year, was asking his friends if they had time to join us this weekend for another fundraiser. This one, co-hosted by the owners of San Loo and Red Guitar Bread, will be this Sunday. You can find more information here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1105590769514337/)
Knox is a true friend who continues to offer words and deeds of support. Because of this and more, he fits in the category of the “cool people.”
|Banner from SPP's 2015 blues fundraising concert|
As a journalist of color, I’ve had the pain and pleasure of writing, discussing, debating and working in a region that’s still very much segregated. Yet, with all our hang-ups and divisions, there’s always been a subset of people here who rise above racial boundaries and imaginary fear-based borders. They are quirky, tenacious, gracious and earthy oddballs. They are white, black and “other” who subscribe to the unpopular notion that we’re all here to do our thing without demeaning or stepping on the backs of the less fortunate in order to claim our sliver of the American Dream.
They’re the ones who don’t hesitate to say “Black Lives Matter,” who build neighborhoods like the Grove, the Ville and the Cherokee strip without the permission or largesse of the rich and powerful. They are the politicians, spoken word and graphic artists, musicians, bakers and coffee shop owners (I’m talkin’ ‘bout y'all, Mo, Jason and Jessie) who open their hearts and storefronts to anyone and everyone who simply want to…well, be.
They are the cool people and I’m humbled to call them my friends. They are the ones who gave me needed balance when I had my own magazine or wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. After writing something race-related, I’d receive a barrage of negative feedback that sometimes made me question my words. The cool people always chimed in to encourage me to keep pushing the envelope, even if they disagreed with my positions.
After I lost my job at the PD and found myself in dire straits a year or so later, it was people like Tom “Papa” Ray of Vintage Vinyl who called to encourage me to “hang in there” and even gave me a few bucks to ease whatever crisis I faced at the time. Papa Ray is but one of many who’ve been there to support whatever endeavor I was attempting over the years.
|Tom "Papa" Ray|
The youth we serve are the primary reason I keep trying to push the Sweet Potato Project boulder up, what at times, seems like a tumultuous hill. The secondary reason is that so many cool people believe in and support our mission to educate and empower youth while working to seed food-based economic opportunity in North St. Louis. How can I say “No, I can’t…” when so many down-to-earth, benevolent people who volunteer, donate, mentor or buy our products say, “Yes, you can?”
I’m always in awe of circumstances that, at first, seem tragic but wind up placing me on pathways to my perceived purpose. If I hadn’t been fired from the PD, I would have never started SPP. A year after losing that job, my wife and I broke up. I forget how (and I’m sorta embarrassed to admit this) but I started singing sad “break up” songs at karaoke bars. I’ve since developed a more diverse repertoire and I’m now a certified slut of the local karaoke scene. Singing, dancing and listening to good, live music, mostly blues, is the only release for this old, suave hipster.
I’m mentioning this because I’ve been exposed to a whole subset of really cool singers and performers here in St. Louis. Karaoke people, for the most part, are extroverts who sing because they love music and life itself. They, like me, are hard-working, passionate, creative people who happen to let their hair down through song. For me, music has been the bridge to real conversations with local musicians, performers, singers and otherwise “cool people.”
Attorney Sarah Tupper sings mean versions of songs by Patsy Kline, Ray Charles and other bygone era singers. We became fast friends through karaoke. Most of Sarah’s clan has adopted me and SPP as well. The family firm has given us pro bono services and her partner, Alex, is co-hosting Sunday’s fundraiser. Alex Carlson is a member of the local group Trigger 5 and owner of Red Guitar Bread on Cherokee next to the San Loo Bar. Last year, he met with our youth, talked with them about entrepreneurism while letting them sample fresh bread and pizzas. Sarah, Alex and his parents, Frank and Nancy, have been to every fundraiser we’ve held and have been above-board supportive.
|Alex Carlson of Red Guitar Bread and Trigger 5|
I absolutely love BB’s Jazz & Soups where Knox hosted the fundraiser for us last year. Another favorite blues place is Beale on Broadway across the street. That’s where I met another local blues aficionado, Jeremiah Johnson. One evening we were outside talking about our upbringings in St. Louis. Johnson told me about his humble beginnings and the issues of “race” that he grapples with on a constant basis. He knew about SPP and vowed to lend his support when he could. This Sunday, he’s making good on that promise by joining musicians for our event.
I enjoy our fundraisers because I get to meet and converse with the cool people of St. Louis. This was true with the one hosted earlier this year by Dave Golliday, a retired cop and owner of Golliday’s bar and Grill on Chippewa. It also relates to the event we held in June at the Royale, hosted by local foodie Brian DeSmet and the owner, Steven Fitzpatrick Smith. The event was attended by long-time friends, followers and grass root folk who simply want the best for our region.
I’ve said that SPP is the most rewarding yet challenging thing I’ve ever tried to do in my lifetime. I’m working with some good people trying to figure out ways to increase funding from traditional and private sector sources. What’s gratifying for me, though, is that we’ve made it thus far and have touched the lives of many, many young people because of the contributions of myriads of wonderful local people.
So, come on out and join us this Sunday. I’m jazzed about the musicians who will show up for the impromptu jam session. I’m geeked about our friends meeting some of our students, hearing their stories and trying out their delicious sweet potato cookies. Most of all I’m looking forward to another great gathering with some of the coolest people of St. Louis.
What: The Sweet Potato Project Fundraiser
When: Sunday, July 31st 5-9pm
Where: San Loo / 3211 Cherokee St / St. Louis, MO 63118
Hosted by: San Loo, Red Guitar Bread and Earthbound Beer
Hosted by: San Loo, Red Guitar Bread and Earthbound Beer
$2 cover / Local musicians / Snacks / Sweet Potato Cookies
For more information contact Sylvester Brown at 314-341-4071 or firstname.lastname@example.org