By Alexei Shaun
There are a great deal of organizations that have been created to support the LGBT+ community such as PROMO, which is an organization based in Saint Louis, Missouri as well as in 4 other neighboring regions. PROMO has promoted equality for all Missourians for about the past 30 years and they’re absolutely great at providing a safe space for LGBT+ individuals. Meeting up a few weeks ago for an interview with three of PROMO’s staff members Mandi Kowalski, Dan Stewart, and Greg Faupel gave major insight into this organization. As we dived into more of an open discussion, Dan stated, “PROMO truly serves as a point of advocacy and really working on a legislative level in order to protect LGBT Missourians. Over the last number of years kind of in light of the new legislation and who we have in the White House, we’re really seeing a strong emphasis and effort towards growing grassroots. Knowing that yes we’re in Saint Louis and things can suck as an LBGT+ person in terms of job protections/housing protections, but we have people in rural Missouri who may not have the opportunity to even be out to anyone at all. As Mandi was saying we have really made a concerted effort of making sure we can reach and touch people on a personal level, in addition to having our presence in Jeff City and really kind of fighting on a macro level of different legislations that can be harmful to our population.” These are crucial steps for furthering and building more civic participation, as well as growing community awareness.
If you ever find yourself wanting to support the LGBT+ community then volunteering, donating, writing letters to legislators, and calling legislators to become more involved with the political spectrum are a few key ways to help out. Now if you find yourself having concerns or questions in regards to your gender identity or sexuality, just know there’s no absolute necessary decision that needs to be made right away. Nothing is set in stone, it’s okay to be your authentic self and if you’re in need of gaining a stronger support system look no further than PROMO (as Mandi mentioned). In time PROMO can help you feel more at peace with being yourself, being kind to yourself, and not feeling as if you need to be fixed.
It’s easy to feel out of place in a world that often has a closed mind towards someone who doesn’t seem to fit within the frame of societal norms. Everyone says to “be you” until the you they never quite imagined shows up. The you which goes against the grain, stands for what you believe in, and loves in an unapologetic way that feels most natural to you. Love knows no boundaries. Love knows no gender and devastatingly it took the mass shooting at the Orlando nightclub Pulse last year for the hashtag #loveislove to surface. Love is love hits home for people all around the world who strongly desire and sometimes struggle to simply be themselves.
Finding your way in life is sometimes stumbling and fighting through all the roadblocks. In the case of being apart of the LGBT+ community it’s often the stares you get when you’re out and about like being snuggled up in the park with someone of the same sex as you, walking hand-in-hand, or simply giving them a kiss on the cheek. It’s generally never anything overly affectionate, yet even the slightest display of affection from couples within the LGBT+ community tends to upset a great deal of people. I remember these “elephant in the room” situations or wherever I may have been at the time all too well growing up as a teenager in Saint Louis. To top it all off, the intersectionality of being a POC within the LGBT+ community seemed to be shunned even more especially when I was younger.
As we finished up the the interview the discussion got deeper when Mandi and Greg also gave insight about the Saint Louis lgbt+ scene. Mandi stated, “Coming from a cis white perspective, my day to day life is very easy. I can pass by most people and not think of what I am in relation to the world. I’m very normal right (laughing) ? On the outside. I also think Saint Louis in comparison to most other places in the state is a more comfortable space for people to be out and be visible in their communities; with that being said there are a lot of different layers of oppression that people in our community have to deal with, so it’s not necessarily an easy space to be out in for everyone. I also think it’s not an easy city for the community to be cohesive in. I think there is a very prevalent amount of purposeful segregation and underlying racism that exists. I don’t necessary think the people in our community, in the gay community think those things I can’t speak for all of them. But it’s definitely prevalent in our city as a whole.”
Piggybacking off of what Mandi mentioned, Greg said, “One of my goals is to make sure my biases are conscious biases and I understand that there is something there obstructing where I want to go. I feel like sometimes there is an unconscious emphasis and bias towards specific members of our community and I think it’s really prevalent. Someone growing up on the scene with LGBT and living out in the suburban area and then coming to the urban area; being back in the day (gosh it so weird saying that term back in the day in the late 90’s) it was not cool in my area to be out. It was just not the thing, so I had to find my community and where it was at and the only avenue I kind of knew about was the bar scene. I do find that sometimes our bar scene...And it’s a great area to meet in, but I wish there were more places that we could make progress as a community without maybe alcohol involved like going up to our legislators and calling legislators or writing letters. Really realizing that the LGBT and just everybody in our family is really our family and I feel like especially ever since the passage of gay marriage I’ve witnessed this backing out of progression of LGBT rights if that makes sense.”
The lgbt+ movement surely has made major milestones throughout the years and the constant battle for true equality is far from over. There are organizations worldwide and even as close to your backyard fighting, bringing awareness, and creating safe spaces for those in need or in search of finding where they belong within the lgbt+ community. It could be your daughter, your brother, your cousin, your friend, or anyone close to you in need of such organizations. You never know what another person is going through. If all you can give is your time to listen and have an open conversation with someone who is apart of the lgbt community then you will take steps in bridging the gap of often misplaced fear for the need to be “normal” and being at peace with staying true to oneself no matter the standards society sets. Opportunities are all around you to take a stand, volunteer with a lgbt+ organization, or make that call to our legislators to further enhance protection for the lgbt+ community. As one of my favorite quotes states, “Now is as good a time as any.” It starts with any of you reading this article. There’s a breath-taking beauty in being the you no one quite imagined. Always hold tight to who you are.
By Alexei Shaun
Q. Thanks for meeting up and chatting with For The Culture! What do you like most about the blog?
A: Versatility. I saw a lot of different clips, different artists, and different subjects. I’m all for a variety ya know. I think it’s pretty fresh you don’t see that too much around the St. Louis area.
Q. Are you from St. Louis ?
A: Born and raised. I grew up over in Webster Groves, in a small home behind a funeral home. Nobody even knew the street existed, it’s called Poke Avenue...I was like alright this is St. Louis *laughs*. I stayed in the Webster Groves area pretty much from kindergarten all the way through high school. Webster has a phenomenal educational program which offered me a lot of opportunities via sports, music, and just good friends.
Q. In what ways does St. Louis influence your creative process towards music ?
A: Musically St. Louis is a melting pot, for me personally I find it to be very versatile and a big conglomerate of so many cultures being smack dab in the middle of the natioin. I’m a little competitive when it comes to the scene here, but it’s not with anybody else as much as it is with the art. This is a really influential city.
Q. Where did you get your 1st start in the music business ?
A: I met one of my good friends Blvck Spvde. I was on the bus line and I was making a beat on my phone. Blvck Spvde was sitting near me in the back and asked, “Yo man what ya doing ?” I told him, “I making this beat man.” I asked him if he wanted to listen to it and the rest was history. Thus, I became the music director for The Hawthorne Headhunters. We had the homie Jason "Dirty Lynt" Moore on the drums, Coultrain, Blvck Spvde, DJ Needles, and myself. This led to being on tour with Hiatus Kaiyote and the connections just kept sparking from there on.
Q. I’ve noticed you like to make motivational posts. How does this currently hold significance in your life ?
A: It’s not necessarily motivational posts as much as it is a reality *laughs*. I try to alter people’s perception on realities. A lot of times I feel it gives people a chance to peek into who I am and understand my music even more. It’s completely universal and relevant through covering more than one genre or one specific idea. I like capturing everybody’s understanding and culture as well, so yes those posts are slightly meant for motivation and also for insight into my language and ethos.
Q. On a local level or national level, which musician would be your #1 pick for collaboration and why ?
A: Man such a tough question. I’d like to collab with Quincy Jones and I say this because that’s the foundation of who I am. I listen to tons of Quincy’s records. His approach towards sound, as well as emotion and how he uses psychoacoustics to stimulate one to be focused (if you will). I feel I have those same traits. I’m just in the beginning processes of understanding the fundamentals of how to do so. I’d love to do a collaboration with him, only because I want my music to hit the Hip-Hop genre, hit the Gospel, hit the Jazz, hit the Rock, R&B and Soul. I want it to all be a collective ya know. Quincy Jones was the best that did it and does it!
Q. Out of all the venues you’ve performed in which one was the most exciting?
A: I would say opening day of the Hiatus Kaiyote tour with The Hawthorne Headhunters. We were in Chicago at The Double Door. The Double Door is this phenomenal venue in the middle of like a 6 or 8 way intersection close to downtown Chicago. It was so exciting. I had never been on tour before and just met everyone not that long ago. Here we are in Chicago playing at one of the dopest venues from what I heard at the time. Ultimately the energy, the way they treated us, the hospitality, and the care truly showed how everybody was about the moment and the sound towards making sure everything is perfect for the ceremony (if you will). One thing I appreciate about The Hawthorne Headhunters is that it’s all about energy. We don’t necessarily perform it for the people, it’s for us also. This is what we do and you get to be apart of what we do, ya know what I’m saying. Everyone's energy was on 10, the place was packed with people, the lights, the transitions of the songs, and it was overall an incredible feeling. I left there like yeah I want to do this for the rest of my life. It was a wrap.
Q. You don’t play just one instrument, but multiple instruments. What kind of challenges did you encounter when initially learning to play these different instruments ?
A: Yes. I play the organ (B3 organ), piano, trumpet, tuba, baritone, and the drums. The origin of all of these instruments started in high school actually under the direction of Kevin Cole. He saw something in me and I just love that guy for really giving me a chance. The challenge was that I wasn’t the best reader of music. Chord notation I could get by with, but I was all about the feel and all about what was suppose to happen next via through my ears. The challenge of not necessarily being able to understand where the music is going through using your ears, can certainly put you in a position to begin reading music.
Q. Do you believe the concept of music theory plays a crucial role in being an artist/musician ?
Q: If it isn’t broke don’t fix it. If it works for you cool and if it doesn’t that’s great as well. Me personally, I looked at theory in an unorthodox way in the form of shapes or colors. I identified that with a completely different formula than the basics of what they try to show you in books, like a C scale or how this chord is relevant to this chord. It’s all about how you place musical elements, for instance a C Major Chord could also be put on top of a B Chord even though these two chords are right next to each other. How you place it and how you shape it to craft a new sound to me is what theory is. It’s a chance that either works or doesn’t. I feel that anything is worth it, whether it’s a specific way you like or don’t like. There have been instances where theory definitely played a part in band rehearsals to help us instantly know what to do, like oh okay we’re going to the “2”, then the “5” right, aw we’re going to the “7” alright bet, and now we have to go to the “3” (in regards to scale degrees). Theory can often be apart of the process and help a great deal.
Q. What is your perspective on key factors that have occurred in your life with correlation towards being an artist ?
A: My life hasn’t necessarily been the best. I was a firefighter for about 10 years and I saw a lot in this profession while still trying to understand what music meant to me. The ups and downs are really what makes the artist. The artist doesn’t get to just choose what about this or what about that, no the experience has to teach in order for you to choose what to write about. Thus far, my story has been a very horrific and gratifying process. In that I’m going to do some things which allow me to say what others are afraid to say, or play some things people wouldn’t necessarily understand as it pertains to music, as well as the emotion tied to the sound. You have to trust the process. Here embodies the beauty of it all and the reward.
Q. If you could give the younger you any type of advice from the knowledge you have now, what would you say ?
A: I was a very very meek younger me and I was also arrogant. I would definitely say time...Time and discipline. We often waste time as if it’s a luxury. Most of us don’t know the importance of how to utilize our time to the fullest capacity generally because of society. You have to pay bills, you have to get money, and you have to go places. At the same time I feel we all have gone through these phases were time was just something we knew we had. If I would tell my younger self anything it would be to use your time more wisely and be more aggressive with how you use your time. It’s all about synergy and it starts with your mind. As the head leads the body follows. I’d definitely tell my younger self to be more disciplined with time, like right now my time consists of being up everyday about 5:00am to start off with meditating, working out, practicing music, and going over the projects I have to work hard on. I just go about it and get it done.
Q. Do you have any fun facts you’d like us to know ?
A: I love bowling. I’m very COMPETITIVE on the lanes *laughs*. I was on the lanes for a few years, it definitely goes down. Also I ride the train a lot. I’ll ride it from the beginning of the line to the end which is by Scott Air Force Base. I like to bring my sketch pad and draw what I see along the way. I’m real big into arts whether it’s drawing, painting, or doing sketches. Also I’m currently doing a couple of individuals album artwork. Yeah, so I love art it’s real therapeutic for me and it’s something that I usually keep quiet on. I don’t try to be this way, it’s just kind of who I am in that you don’t know everybody’s story. I stay humble as much as possible and treat people with love and respect as much as I can. I’m just grinding on what I do. I know my time is coming and is actually here now to certain a point. Everything is definitely paying off.
Q. What new music endeavors can we expect from you in the near future and where can we find you on social media ?
A: I’m currently working on my album right now entitled “The Connection”. It’s a very interesting process to see how it’s all coming together. It’s due to drop this upcoming August which is my birthday month! I was going to drop it the beginning of April, but I had to put some more magic in there. I have some exciting music ideas that have come to life while working on this album. The music itself is completely unorthodox. I do not pride myself on being like any other artist or creating something others have already made. It’ll all be original music and completely opposite of my character. I’ve really challenged myself to tap into different personas. This will definitely be a project to anticipate. My social media can be found here:
Soundcloud @Mr. Barksdale