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Serving the <strong>Mid</strong>-<strong>South</strong> LGBT+ Community and its Allies | MAY+JUN <strong>2021</strong>


They say it takes five<br />

times to read something<br />

before it sinks in.<br />

RRF SPREAD


We threw in an extra<br />

for good measure<br />

because we're good like that.<br />

Ray Rico Freelance is an established,<br />

growing agency with a talented team,<br />

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celebrate a unique vision to create designs<br />

and strategies that stick to our core values.<br />

Read more about us at<br />

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#supportlocalcreativity


team<br />

PUBLISHER<br />

Ray Rico<br />

EDITOR/<br />

CREATIVE DIRECTOR<br />

Joan Allison<br />

EDITORIAL DESIGN<br />

Joan Allison<br />

ADVERTISING DESIGN<br />

Daphne Butler<br />

INTERACTIVE<br />

+ SOCIAL MEDIA<br />

Chellie Bowman<br />

Tracy Love<br />

ADVERTISING+FINANCE<br />

Leila Hinkle<br />

info@focusmidsouth.com<br />

901.800.1172<br />

DISTRIBUTION<br />

+ SUBSCRIPTIONS<br />

Randall Sloan<br />

Leila Hinkle<br />

RE:FOCUS PODCAST<br />

Chellie Bowman<br />

Goldie Dee<br />

Allysun Wunderland<br />

contributors<br />

Joan Allison<br />

Vincent Astor<br />

Savannah Bearden<br />

Chellie Bowman<br />

Tricia Dewey<br />

Joy Doss<br />

Sarah Rutledge Fischer<br />

Michael Hildebrand<br />

Moth Moth Moth<br />

Terrence Jenkins<br />

Robin Beaudoin Ownby<br />

Ray Rico<br />

Olivia Roman<br />

Sarah Rushakoff<br />

Chris Reeder Young<br />

<strong>Focus</strong> ® <strong>Mid</strong>-<strong>South</strong> is all about LGBT + people and their allies…their work, play,<br />

families, creativity, style, health and wealth, bodies and souls. Our focus is on you.<br />

<strong>Focus</strong> ® <strong>Mid</strong>-<strong>South</strong> is published bi-monthly and distributed free throughout the<br />

greater <strong>Mid</strong>-<strong>South</strong> area. <strong>Focus</strong> reserves the right to refuse to sell space for any<br />

advertisement the staff deems inappropriate for the publication. Press releases<br />

must be received by the first of the month for the following issue. All content of<br />

this <strong>magazine</strong>, including and without limitation to the design, advertisements,<br />

art, photos and editorial content, as well as the selection, coordination and<br />

arrangement thereof, is Copyright ©2020, <strong>Focus</strong> ® <strong>Mid</strong>-<strong>South</strong>. All Rights Reserved.<br />

No portion of this <strong>magazine</strong> may be copied or reprinted without the express<br />

written permission of the publisher. For a full list of our editorial and advertising<br />

policies, please visit focusmidsouth.com/policies.<br />

PICK UP + GIVE FOCUS<br />

Pick up a copy of <strong>Focus</strong> ® <strong>Mid</strong>-<strong>South</strong> at locations near you. Check out<br />

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is distributed. Want to carry <strong>Focus</strong> ® <strong>Mid</strong>-<strong>South</strong>? Call us at 901.800.1172 or email<br />

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Give a subscription to someone, or treat yourself. Yearly subscriptions are $25;<br />

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<strong>Focus</strong> ® <strong>Mid</strong>-<strong>South</strong> Magazine is published by<br />

Ray Rico Freelance, LLC<br />

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Memphis, TN, 38104<br />

rayricofreelance.com<br />

Let’s be friends. Tag us!<br />

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Twitter: @focusmidsouth, #focusmidsouth #focusmemphis<br />

BE PART OF OUR NEXT PUBLICATION<br />

‘BODY BEAUTIFUL’<br />

JUL+AUG <strong>2021</strong><br />

Submit story ideas: editor@focusmidsouth.com<br />

Editorial submission deadline: <strong>Jun</strong>e 1, <strong>2021</strong><br />

Advertising inquiries: sales@focusmidsouth.com<br />

Ad space reservation due: <strong>May</strong> 29, <strong>2021</strong><br />

Proud<br />

Member<br />

Certifying LGBT Businesses.<br />

Connecting Our Communities.<br />

Page 4 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


LISTEN TO THE NEW PODCAST FROM<br />

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CONTENTS<br />

MAY+JUN <strong>2021</strong><br />

16<br />

36<br />

22 34<br />

EXTRA ONLINE CONTENT<br />

When you see this icon (throughout the <strong>magazine</strong>),<br />

you will find additional online resources related to<br />

the article at focusmidsouth.com<br />

7 THEME: BE CREATIVE!<br />

8 ASK ALLIE<br />

Using pronouns is a personal choice.<br />

12 FOCUS SOCIAL MEDIA<br />

See what others are saying about us.<br />

11 NEW! LGBT CROSSWORD PUZZLE<br />

This week: Layshia on Top Surgery<br />

14 ARTS+ENTERTAINMENT<br />

Mothie’s take on liturgical dance.<br />

16 COMMUNITY<br />

Memphis’ new BLM and Rainbow<br />

Crosswalks in Overton Square district.<br />

20 PET FOCUS<br />

Caring for your older pet.<br />

22 COMMUNITY<br />

For the experienced or rookie LGBT or<br />

ally, PRIDE Sports USA offers kickball<br />

and camaraderie.<br />

26 LGBT ALLY<br />

Celebrity filmmaker, Craig Brewer, has<br />

enjoyed huge success, but first and<br />

foremost, Brewer is a Memphian.<br />

29 BE CREATIVE!<br />

The Memphis is home to tons of<br />

talent. We introduce you to several<br />

creatives who make the <strong>Mid</strong>-<strong>South</strong> a<br />

joyful place to live.<br />

30 Allie Mounce, Clare Freeman and<br />

Katie Mars of Pretty Useful Co.<br />

artistic products<br />

32 Jamie Harmon, photographer<br />

34 Toonky Berry, muralist<br />

36 Michael Hildebrand, artist<br />

38 Tori Who Dat, singer/songwriter<br />

40 Yancy Calvo, visual artist<br />

42 Kerry Cutrell, maker<br />

44 Chris O’Conner, filmmaker<br />

46 Matt Petty and Cristy Michel<br />

musicians<br />

48 ARTS+ENTERTAINMENT<br />

Staying creative takes practice. We have<br />

7 tips to keep your skills tuned up.<br />

50 LGBT HISTORY<br />

Local LGBT historian Vincent Astor gives<br />

us a look at the LGBT persons featured<br />

on OUTMemphis’ Wall of Honor.<br />

52 HEALTH+WELLNESS<br />

Meet CHOICES new Executive Director,<br />

Jennifer Pepper.<br />

54 ARTS+ENTERTAINMENT<br />

Pop culture staff picks!<br />

24 LIFE<br />

You can still color with broken crayons.<br />

Explore this metaphor for living.<br />

ON THE COVER<br />

Illustration by<br />

Michael Hildebrand who is<br />

also featured on page 36.<br />

Page 6 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


theme<br />

BE CREATIVE! /MAY+JUN <strong>2021</strong> / focusmidsouth.com / Page 7


life<br />

Dear<br />

T.I.S.H.<br />

Dear Allie,<br />

I have a pronoun issue, and since I work for an LGBTQ<br />

organization, it’s kind of a problem. My boss had me<br />

ask all employees to include pronouns in their company<br />

bios. I did, but I felt really uncomfortable. Frankly, I don’t<br />

want to include mine.<br />

I’m a cis-gender straight woman and have always<br />

comfortably conformed to female gender norms. But<br />

throughout my life, I’ve been misgendered. When I was<br />

young, it was very upsetting to wonder why people<br />

thought I was a boy even though I felt and dressed like<br />

a girl. I finally decided that all that mattered was what I<br />

thought of myself. But with the pronoun issue here, I’m<br />

feeling off kilter again.<br />

The thing is, I don’t really care. As long as you are<br />

respectful, you can call me whatever. I mean, I will honor<br />

your pronouns and fight anyone who dares to disrespect<br />

them, but I just don’t feel like explaining myself any<br />

more than I’ve already had to. So, I don’t want to use<br />

them.<br />

Is this just my privilege showing? How do I navigate<br />

this? Help!<br />

Tired of Insisting on She/Her<br />

Dear T.I.S.H.,<br />

I am a big fan of people including pronouns when<br />

introducing themselves. At a cultural level, including<br />

pronouns in an introduction normalizes the idea that<br />

a person’s gender may not be readily apparent based<br />

on their external conformity to cultural gender norms.<br />

For some people, including pronouns is a way of<br />

communicating to others that they are an ally of the<br />

transgender community. Plus, including pronouns can<br />

create a space in which others can feel comfortable<br />

sharing their own pronouns. And of course, for many<br />

people including pronouns is a necessary part of<br />

expressing their gender identity and insisting that it<br />

deserves to be recognized.<br />

PRONOUNS:<br />

TO USE THEM OR NOT<br />

IS A VERY<br />

PERSONAL CHOICE<br />

by Sarah Rutledge Fischer (she/they)<br />

But while I am a fan of people including pronouns, I<br />

would never recommend anyone requiring other people<br />

to do so. Requiring pronouns in introductions, while<br />

certainly well intended, can be very distressing for<br />

people who are in the closet, people who are in the<br />

process of questioning or exploring gender identity,<br />

and people who have suffered traumas around gender<br />

identity.<br />

Now, I’m fairly comfortable assuming that your boss<br />

never intended to cause anyone suffering with his<br />

request. In fact, he would probably be shocked at the<br />

emotional weight his request has carried for you and<br />

maybe others. But one of the burdens of being in a<br />

position of authority is the necessity of remaining<br />

aware of the power imbalance created by that<br />

Shutterstock<br />

Page 8 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


position—even in the friendliest of environments.<br />

So, for bosses, managers, professors, organizers,<br />

and anyone else in the business of managing<br />

people, it is best, when possible, to create an<br />

opportunity for people to share their pronouns<br />

while also making it clear that no one is expected<br />

or required to do so.<br />

Now that we’ve covered your boss’s words,<br />

I want to talk about yours. You assert that you<br />

don’t care how you are gendered, but it seems<br />

very clear to me that you do. Just because you<br />

are cis-gendered doesn’t mean that the cruelties<br />

of cis-normative society haven’t caused you pain<br />

and trauma. I applaud your decision that the<br />

only opinion that matters on your gender is your<br />

own. But I also encourage you to turn inward and<br />

do what you can to heal the hurt and confusion<br />

suffered by the young girl you once were and, to<br />

some degree, still are.<br />

As a cis-hetero woman, you have the ability to<br />

understand privilege from both sides. You know<br />

what it is to see men benefit from privilege you<br />

will never have. And you benefit from straight/cis<br />

privileges you may never notice or understand.<br />

If you find a way to truly heal the traumas you’ve<br />

suffered around gender, then with or without<br />

pronouns, you will have even more power to open<br />

doors of acceptance and visibility for the trans<br />

and nonbinary people in your world.<br />

In the meantime, try sending this column to your<br />

boss. <strong>May</strong>be you and he can work together to<br />

create a better company policy around pronouns.<br />

That should get you started.<br />

Your friend,<br />

Allie<br />

To submit your own question, email Allie at<br />

Allie@focusmidsouth.com. <strong>Focus</strong> <strong>Mid</strong>-<strong>South</strong><br />

reserves the right to edit letters for length and<br />

clarity.<br />

901.818.0773<br />

pavosalon.com<br />

Be<br />

PrEPared.<br />

Learn more about<br />

HIV prevention at<br />

Planned Parenthood.<br />

866.711.1717<br />

PlannedParenthood.org/Tennessee


music<br />

Honoring her authentic self in her latest album:<br />

GARRISON<br />

STARR<br />

by Joy Doss | photo by Heather Holty-Newton<br />

Singer-songwriter Garrison<br />

Starr is…well…a star in her own<br />

right. The Mississippi native has<br />

been making music and magic<br />

for over two decades. In<br />

addition to having released 15<br />

solo albums, playing Lilith Fair<br />

and touring with Melissa<br />

Etheridge, her songs have<br />

appeared in episodes of Grey’s<br />

Anatomy and Pretty Little Liars.<br />

Though technically placed in<br />

the Americana box, the purity<br />

of her voice is reminiscent in<br />

tone and quality of Susanna<br />

Hoffs and Sheryl Crow. And of<br />

course, the upfront guitar<br />

presence lends to that<br />

connection. Make no mistake<br />

however, Garrison may be<br />

reminiscent of these tendervoiced<br />

coquettes but that is<br />

NOT to say her music is<br />

derivative. She has a voice that<br />

is all her own, which shines<br />

through on her recently<br />

released album, The Girl I Used<br />

To Be.<br />

The very first song is<br />

probably the strongest and<br />

most resonant song on the<br />

entire album. The Devil in Me<br />

hits different. After reading her<br />

bio, the pain and struggle that<br />

framed her younger years is<br />

evident and peppered<br />

throughout the song. She<br />

writes, “I lost my youth hiding<br />

the devil in me, broke in two<br />

fighting the devil me….” The<br />

journey to self-acceptance and<br />

self-love is not an easy one for<br />

someone who is “different” and<br />

trying to survive in a “majority”<br />

space that tells you different is<br />

not the jam. Whether it’s<br />

because you’re not blonde (or<br />

white) enough, skinny enough,<br />

rich enough or, in this case,<br />

hetero enough, it’s a maze<br />

lined with sticker bushes (as<br />

<strong>South</strong>erners say) and littered<br />

with thorny brush. The song,<br />

co-written by 19-year-old Carly<br />

Paige, chronicles all of these<br />

emotions and complexities in<br />

one roughly 4-minute long<br />

missive.<br />

The entire album is worth the<br />

listen, however. It is a very<br />

well-written body of work that<br />

traces the arc of her full circle<br />

and ponders existential<br />

questions around the<br />

evangelical conservatism of<br />

her youth (“How do I believe in<br />

something that don’t believe in<br />

me?,” she asks in Don’t Believe<br />

in Me). Garrison, who has<br />

always written her own songs,<br />

has created a lovely album with<br />

lyrics that are plain-spoken yet<br />

at times poetic, delivered with<br />

a ringing sincerity and honesty<br />

When an artist feels their song,<br />

the listener feels it through<br />

them. It is refreshing in a sea of<br />

sameness and performative<br />

nonconformity. Of the album<br />

she says, “I used to be that girl<br />

who was trying so hard to<br />

please everybody, who was<br />

trying so hard to do the right<br />

thing in everybody else’s eyes.<br />

But I can’t be that anymore. I<br />

know what you want me to be,<br />

but I’m not that person. I can’t<br />

do it. I’m dying inside. I can’t<br />

hold back.” Nor should she.<br />

She has found herself and her<br />

tribe.<br />

Visit www.garrisonstarr.com<br />

for music, show dates and<br />

merch.<br />

Page 10 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


community<br />

PRIDE LIVE AND IN COLOR 2.0<br />

Even virtually, Memphis Pride Fest is the single largest gathering for the LGBTQ+ community and<br />

our allies in the <strong>Mid</strong>-<strong>South</strong>. While the Virtual Festival and Pride Parade are the cornerstone of<br />

Memphis Pride Fest, the entire celebration (known as Memphis Pride Fest Weekend) spans 4 days. It<br />

begins with “Drag N Drive” at the Summer Drive-In on Thursday Night and continues into a 3 day<br />

Virtual Pride Celebration. “Live and in Color 2.0” starts on Friday night and runs all day Saturday,<br />

with Sunday rounding out the weekend of Pride festivities.<br />

Last year over 24,000+ people tuned in virtually and we hope to grow that number this year!<br />

SUNDAY MAY 30, 2 PM @ TIGER LANE<br />

PRIDE ON WHEELS CARAVAN PARADE<br />

What would Pride be without a big, bold, colorful<br />

caravan parade? Even though we are virtual this year the<br />

Pride on Wheels Caravan is a great substitute for the<br />

Traditional Parade. We will record this event and<br />

broadcast it during the Virtual Festival on Saturday!<br />

We will start at 2 pm from Tiger Lane. Travel down East<br />

Parkway to Young. From Young to Cooper and from<br />

Cooper to Union. From Union to Danny Thomas. Down<br />

Beale Street, stopping in front of the New Daisy to show<br />

some spirit for the cameras, then continue down Beale<br />

until you get to 2nd, and we are done. Cars, Trucks,<br />

Floats, and Motorcycles/Scooters are welcome!<br />

The procession features over 100 units with<br />

participants of all ages and backgrounds including<br />

church groups, performing arts groups, museums, high<br />

school & college groups, senior groups, non-profit<br />

organizations, city & county leaders, local businesses,<br />

and corporate brands including St. Jude, Nike, New York<br />

Life, T-Mobile, Ikea, FedEx, International Paper,<br />

AutoZone, First Tennessee Bank, Kroger, Lowes, Gold<br />

Strike Casino, and many more.<br />

Virtual Pride can be streamed on Facebook, YouTube,<br />

and Twitch, but the best way to watch is on our website<br />

which will have extra features. Don’t forget that you can<br />

also stream on your TV!<br />

THURSDAY JUNE 3, 6:30 PM @ THE SUMMER DRIVE-IN<br />

DRAG N DRIVE<br />

This event sold out quickly last year, so make sure you<br />

get tickets as soon as they are available.<br />

We will be showing cult classic “Hairspray,” with an<br />

hour-long Drag Show immediately following!<br />

The Drag Show features Iris LeFleur, Will Ryder,<br />

Stanisha Bonet Dupree, Bella Duballe, Jr Stone, Aubrey<br />

Ombre, Justin Allen Tate, and Demonica Santangilo .<br />

Gates open at 6:30 pm<br />

Movie starts at 7:30 pm<br />

Drag Show starts at 9:45 pm<br />

3 DAY VIRTUAL PRIDE<br />

FRIDAY JUNE 4, 7 - 9 PM,<br />

LIVE AND IN COLOR 2.0 on midsouthpride.org/live/<br />

Virtual Pride Live and in Color 2.0 is a diverse, inclusive,<br />

family, and community-friendly event.<br />

LEARN, LAUGH, AND LIVE from 7 - 9 pm<br />

We will have some serious and some fun conversations.<br />

Thank you to the Friends of George’s cast for premiering their<br />

version of the hilarious “Snatch Game.”<br />

SATURDAY JUNE 5TH 9 AM - 8 PM<br />

on midsouthpride.org/live/<br />

Saturday will be filled with Entertainment, Community<br />

Partners, Laughs, Dancing, and even some educational<br />

moments. We have broken it down into 3 segments and a<br />

detailed schedule we will be posted soon.<br />

Saturday’s Schedule<br />

9 - Noon | Part 1<br />

1 – 4 pm | Part 2<br />

5 – 8 pm | Part 3<br />

SUNDAY JUNE 6TH 11 AM - 6 PM<br />

on midsouthpride.org/live/<br />

Sunday will be a day of Drag Brunch, Community Partners,<br />

Multi-Faith Service, Drag Bingo, Laughs, and even some<br />

Breakout Sessions. We have broken today down into 2<br />

Segments, and a detailed schedule we will be posted soon.<br />

Performers are FreakNasty, Macc Onner, Angelique Monroe,<br />

Luna Luella, Keleigh Klarke, Safari Kelly, Trebecca Collins, and<br />

Coco Kelly Diamond.<br />

Sunday’s Schedule<br />

11 am – 2 pm | Part 1<br />

3 pm – 6 pm | Part 2<br />

Stay tuned for more info!<br />

All details are pending pandemic outcomes, please make sure you visit our website to stay<br />

up to date with all the current details midsouthpride.org/pridefest/memphis-pride-fest-<strong>2021</strong>/<br />

BE CREATIVE! /MAY+JUN <strong>2021</strong> / focusmidsouth.com / Page 11


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faith+spirituality<br />

Dancing<br />

with the<br />

universe<br />

story and illustration by Moth Moth Moth<br />

Page 14 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


Hi Friends, this article was written after being<br />

inspired by the work of Dr. Takiyah Nur Amin,<br />

specifically her lectures about embodiment and<br />

the way that liturgical dance can open possibilities<br />

to re-contextualize the way that people worship.<br />

Katie Smythe, CEO and Artistic Director at New<br />

Ballet Ensemble and School, also gave us some<br />

quick foundational information about liturgical<br />

dance via Facebook. — Moth Moth Moth<br />

I have a cousin who’s a vet.<br />

She’s also a former rodeo<br />

star. As kids while I was living<br />

sedentary adventures inside the<br />

screen of a Game Boy, she was<br />

guiding giant beasts around<br />

colorful barrels and clowns.<br />

Scrappy is how my Mother<br />

would oft describe her.<br />

But just as every little gay<br />

guy goes through a hair school<br />

phase, she went through some<br />

eras where performing song<br />

and dance seemed like they<br />

may compete with her chestnutcolored<br />

companions. I recall a<br />

couple of holidays where she<br />

had written special songs to<br />

perform in a voice that I did not<br />

possess being the tone-deaf one<br />

in a clan of mostly singers. But<br />

for a time, my good rodeo riding<br />

cousin was a dancer. But only in<br />

church.<br />

We were probably in the 4th<br />

or 5th grade when I saw her<br />

perform. Up until this point<br />

dancing in a church didn’t seem<br />

like something that happened<br />

in my very Caucasian blood red<br />

Methodist church. But a young<br />

girl in a blue dress interrupted<br />

that status quo.<br />

Framed by only dark red,<br />

gilded gold, and mahogany<br />

my cousin planted her feet and<br />

lifted her arms in sweeping<br />

movements. Throughout the<br />

performance she darted around<br />

the pit, swirling, twirling, and<br />

then folding to the ground. It<br />

was the most poetic side I’d<br />

seen of my cousin outside of the<br />

realm of the equine.<br />

Liturgical dance is a new<br />

phrase to me, though the<br />

movement vocabulary has long<br />

been in my mental portfolio<br />

since my rodeo star cousin did<br />

her dance. A dance done in<br />

worship is the definition. Wide<br />

movements that look like energy<br />

bending. Strides that took her<br />

across the floor and into the<br />

next arch of story within the<br />

song. The focus is on modest<br />

and intentional movement.<br />

Sitting in a pew, wearing a shirt<br />

from Old Navy with flaming<br />

tikis on it I found myself a little<br />

jealous. There was a crumpled<br />

up print off about a hip hop<br />

class in my desk back home. I<br />

didn’t feel like I was allowed to<br />

dance.<br />

According to some of the<br />

boys from my school it was a<br />

major sin to dance at all - let<br />

alone in a church. My cousin’s<br />

dance showed me that art<br />

belongs anywhere.<br />

When I grew up to become<br />

a drag queen, artist, and yes<br />

-- my own kinda tiny dancer,<br />

I found myself thinking<br />

about sweeping catalogs of<br />

movement. Everyone else my<br />

age in drag was learning to<br />

split, dip, and buck; meanwhile<br />

I’m in my apartment watching<br />

videos of Kate Bush performing<br />

“Running Up That Hill” or clips<br />

of entire congregations dancing<br />

together in worship. Within<br />

liturgical dance theory there<br />

is room for expanding the way<br />

that we relate to the divine.<br />

That worship is an act of both<br />

thought AND embodiment.<br />

Liturgical dance creates a space<br />

for people to feel what they<br />

feel and express in ways that<br />

are joyful and healthy. Now,<br />

according to Google, most often<br />

this form of dance is generated<br />

in a Christian subtext. My own<br />

early experiences with the form<br />

were all through churches and<br />

youth programs.<br />

But just as drag has been<br />

around as long as there have<br />

been banana leaves and crushed<br />

berries, trying to use one’s body<br />

as a satellite to commune with<br />

the universe isn’t an invention of<br />

organized religion, it is a natural<br />

outcropping of our need to<br />

close our eyes and feel close to<br />

a Big Spirit. In my world these<br />

two art forms can pair well with<br />

one another. When onstage,<br />

with sparkly garments and hair,<br />

I too am trying to feel close<br />

to the Universe. Twirling and<br />

mouthing Paloma Faith songs<br />

is fun of course, but there is a<br />

deeper thing that myself and<br />

many drag artists are trying to<br />

do. Pull something spiritual out<br />

of the earth. Pull something<br />

comforting out of the sky. Don’t<br />

forget the words to your Celine<br />

song girl!<br />

I never danced as a kid. But<br />

I found God in Dru’s Place,<br />

wearing an emerald green<br />

dress from Cold Water Creek<br />

and dancing to track #1 from<br />

No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom.<br />

And because of that, I think<br />

all humans are meant to be<br />

liturgical dancers.<br />

Drag Queens and liturgical<br />

dancers have this in common.<br />

When we dance, it is not a<br />

space in which we are dancing<br />

for you. Or for god or the aliens<br />

observing us through viewing<br />

globes on the other side space<br />

and time - we are dancing<br />

with you, with ourselves, and<br />

with the spirits that give our<br />

hearts brightness. Dancing with<br />

Universe.<br />

During the coronavirus crisis, services are online only at www.churchoftheriver.org


community<br />

Ray Rico Freelance and Sowell Realtors create<br />

BLACK LIVES MATTER AND<br />

RAINBOW CROSSWALKS<br />

by Joan Allison | photos by Terrence Jenkins<br />

“Love is Love” and “Black<br />

Lives Matter” are three-word<br />

phrases that were visually<br />

realized this past Saturday,<br />

April 17, on Cooper Street near<br />

Overton Square where two<br />

crosswalks were installed: one<br />

for the Black Lives Matter<br />

movement and the other, an<br />

Inclusive Rainbow Flag<br />

Crosswalk in support of the<br />

LGBT+ community.<br />

Ray Rico, owner of Ray Rico<br />

Freelance (RRF) and publisher<br />

of <strong>Focus</strong> <strong>Mid</strong>-<strong>South</strong>, an LGBT<br />

and allies publication, led the<br />

team that proposed the<br />

project. It won approval from<br />

the City of Memphis’ Public Art<br />

Review Committee in early<br />

January <strong>2021</strong> and a handsdown<br />

‘Go for it’ from<br />

businesses near the project.<br />

“I’m proud that our<br />

community will have both of<br />

these installations to show<br />

solidarity for our BIPOC and<br />

inclusivity for our LGBT+<br />

family,” Rico said. “Now more<br />

than ever, diversity and<br />

equality are vital. Thanks to<br />

Linda Sowell, Shelly Rainwater,<br />

and the whole team’s vision for<br />

funding this effort.”<br />

Partnership with Sowell<br />

Realtors<br />

Sowell, Principal Broker and<br />

Owner of Sowell Realtors,<br />

serves as an ally on several<br />

boards serving the LGBT+<br />

community. Sowell and her<br />

company’s agents are the<br />

funding source for the two<br />

projects. Linda Sowell, a<br />

Memphis native, has more than<br />

40 years of experience in real<br />

estate in the greater Memphis<br />

area.<br />

“As a proud member of<br />

<strong>Mid</strong>town, our company wanted<br />

to show our support for the<br />

LGBTQ community and the<br />

BLM movement,” Sowell said.<br />

“The beautiful crosswalks<br />

between our office and<br />

Hattiloo Theater are a<br />

wonderful representation of<br />

the connection we all have to<br />

this community and to each<br />

other.”<br />

Two New Crosswalks<br />

The two crosswalks are<br />

east-west spans across Cooper<br />

Street. The Black Lives Matter<br />

(BLM) crosswalk is an<br />

“inspirational display designed<br />

to show solidarity and support<br />

for the African American<br />

community and their allies.”<br />

The BLM crosswalk reaches<br />

from the entrance area of<br />

Hattiloo Theatre, whose work is<br />

primarily of African-American<br />

influence, across Cooper Street<br />

to the south sidewalk along<br />

Monroe Avenue. The Memphis<br />

BLM crosswalk is the first of its<br />

kind in Tennessee.<br />

The Inclusive Rainbow Flag<br />

Crosswalk spans Cooper Street<br />

from the northern corner of the<br />

Hattiloo property across<br />

Cooper to the north sidewalk<br />

along Monroe Avenue. The<br />

Rainbow Crosswalk will be a<br />

colorful representation of a<br />

unified LGBT+ community.<br />

Diversity, Inclusivity and<br />

Equality<br />

The owners of businesses<br />

adjacent to the project agreed<br />

that the crosswalks are a good<br />

addition to Overton Square,<br />

Rico said. The crosswalks will<br />

attract and draw in more<br />

visitors who will take photos<br />

and share their experiences in<br />

the area. The art installation’s<br />

positive message, he said,<br />

shows diversity, inclusivity, and<br />

equality and provides a nod at<br />

acceptance for Memphis.<br />

Both Sowell and Rico worked<br />

closely to get community<br />

leaders’ input and bridge some<br />

gaps in communication. This<br />

has established lines of<br />

communication and allowed a<br />

stronger bond between all<br />

community partners involved<br />

such as the local Black Lives<br />

Matter chapter, OUTMemphis,<br />

<strong>Mid</strong>-<strong>South</strong> Pride, Tri-State<br />

Black Pride, <strong>Focus</strong> <strong>Mid</strong>-<strong>South</strong><br />

<strong>magazine</strong>, The Unleashed Voice<br />

Magazine, and other thought<br />

leaders.<br />

Ray Rico Freelance Art<br />

Director Daphne Butler led the<br />

design team for the crosswalk<br />

designs. Other RRF agency<br />

members on the project were<br />

Randall Sloan and Elizabeth<br />

McDonnell.<br />

Volunteers from Ray Rico<br />

Freelance, Sowell Realtors, the<br />

Black Lives Matter Memphis<br />

chapter and <strong>Mid</strong>-<strong>South</strong> Pride,<br />

as well as Memphis<br />

Commissioner Reginald Milton,<br />

were all on hand to install the<br />

crosswalks.<br />

Rico would like to offer a<br />

special thanks to the event-day<br />

participants, as well as the<br />

Memphis Police Department.<br />

Page 16 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


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pet focus<br />

Seven Habits of<br />

HIGHLY-EFFECTIVE OWNERS<br />

OF ELDERLY DOGS<br />

Man’s best friend is living<br />

longer than ever. This is due to<br />

our beloved canines’ increased<br />

status as family member and<br />

families becoming conscientious<br />

about providing their dogs’<br />

appropriate veterinary care. As<br />

a result, we are faced with a<br />

variety of health care issues as<br />

they age. No matter which<br />

health issue you and your<br />

elderly dog may be dealing with,<br />

there are several components of<br />

good pet care you may wish<br />

keep in mind.<br />

1. Make sure your dog gets<br />

plenty of exercise and is not<br />

overweight. Much like humans,<br />

an overweight elderly dog will<br />

not cope as well with conditions<br />

common in older pets such as<br />

arthritis.<br />

2. Provide proper nutrition for<br />

the elderly dog. Older dogs do<br />

not need the same amount of<br />

calories as a younger dog. The<br />

older dog slows down a bit and,<br />

therefore, should consume<br />

fewer calories per day.<br />

Depending upon the specific<br />

issues facing your elderly dog,<br />

you may need to add some<br />

supplements to your dog’s<br />

meals. Supplements such as<br />

glucosamine can be very helpful<br />

for elderly dogs with sore joints.<br />

3. Be aware of changes in<br />

your dog’s behavior. These may<br />

include variations in food and<br />

water intake and elimination, as<br />

well as emotional changes such<br />

as lethargy. You are the expert<br />

on your pet and know best how<br />

(s)he behaves when (s)he is<br />

feeling good. Make note of<br />

subtle events as such as walking<br />

into a room and realizing<br />

Spanky doesn’t seem to hear<br />

you as well as she did; this could<br />

be the start of hearing loss. This<br />

is common for dogs, as is some<br />

diminished sight capacity. Your<br />

challenge as the dog owner is to<br />

figure out how to best<br />

accommodate your dog’s<br />

reduced sensory capabilities. Do<br />

you need to change your<br />

environment to make sure your<br />

dog is safe? For the sight<br />

impaired dog, a baby gate over<br />

a stairway would prevent an<br />

accident. For the hearing<br />

impaired dog, many simple<br />

commands such as “sit,” “stay,”<br />

and “stop” have sign language<br />

equivalents which will be helpful<br />

for them to learn.<br />

4. Old dogs can and should<br />

learn new tricks! Keeping your<br />

elderly dog engaged mentally<br />

SHUTTERSTOCK<br />

stimulates them and provides<br />

another outlet for their spirit as<br />

their physical abilities decline.<br />

As a dog owner, you are most<br />

familiar with your dog’s<br />

strengths. Create games and<br />

tricks to help them use their<br />

strengths and challenge them in<br />

areas where they are not as<br />

strong.<br />

5. Veterinarians now<br />

recommend that elderly dogs<br />

receive checkups every six<br />

months. Keep rigorously to this<br />

schedule and you will be better<br />

able to handle any health issues<br />

which may arise. If you do<br />

suspect something is wrong<br />

with your pet, do not delay in<br />

acting. No matter what the<br />

health issue, the earlier your pet<br />

is seen by the vet, the better<br />

chance of proper diagnosis and<br />

treatment.<br />

6. Be aware of not only<br />

traditional vet solutions for your<br />

pet, but also holistic alternatives<br />

such as acupuncture and herbal<br />

medicine. Do make sure any<br />

professional practicing these<br />

techniques has been<br />

appropriately licensed and<br />

accredited. If you choose to<br />

combine traditional veterinary<br />

solutions and holistic solutions<br />

for treatment of your pet, make<br />

sure each vet with whom you<br />

are working understands what<br />

the other is doing. Traditional<br />

medicine and holistic medicine<br />

treatments may not always<br />

complement each other.<br />

7. Make sure your pet as<br />

comfortable as possible. There<br />

are products available to help<br />

owners keep older pets<br />

comfortable. Items range from<br />

ramps for those dogs not able<br />

to use stairs to special<br />

orthopedic beds for dogs with<br />

arthritis.<br />

Ultimately, there will come a<br />

time when your pet is no longer<br />

comfortable. It is the final<br />

responsibility of the owner to<br />

decide when your pet’s quality<br />

of life has declined to a point<br />

where pet euthanasia is<br />

absolutely the right thing to do.<br />

This decision is difficult and it is<br />

the time our pets need us the<br />

most. This is not an easy<br />

decision to make, but owners<br />

should be comforted by the fact<br />

they are acting humanely and in<br />

the best interest of their pet.<br />

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community<br />

PRIDE Sports USA<br />

KICKS THINGS OFF IN MEMPHIS<br />

by Ray Rico | photos courtesy of PRIDE Sports USA<br />

PRIDE Sports has been a welcome addition to the Memphis LGBTQ+ community. It’s created a different way for people to interact,<br />

renew friendships, and make new friendships. Since the league encourages involvement from people with all skill levels, it gives<br />

people a chance to try engaging in sports–for the first time in many cases. A lot of us in the gay community grew up feeling like we<br />

weren’t allowed to play sports because we weren’t good enough. The league encourages development and growth through team<br />

practices, while also providing a new level of social interaction. — Brent Davis - Pride Sports USA, Memphis manager<br />

Keith London is the founder of PRIDE Sports<br />

USA, a national league that hosts an array of LGBT<br />

sports. His vision for building a dream league for<br />

kickball has always been a passion. After moving to<br />

Texas, he started the league and grew it from there<br />

adding other sports and adding other cities.<br />

PRIDE Sports USA kicked things off for the<br />

first time in April, 2017 launching a sports league<br />

in Austin, Texas. Now, PRIDE Sports USA enjoys<br />

playing on Memphis ground. The league has grown<br />

its presence in other cities like Dallas, Houston,<br />

Seattle, Boston, and Tampa. The league is now<br />

in over 25 cities and has 25,000+ active players<br />

across the country.<br />

As it grew, participants understood what it could<br />

do to grow communities by offering something as<br />

an alternative to the bar scene. Locally, the team<br />

managers are Geoffrey Fenlong, Larry Sedgwick,<br />

Gary Cook, and Brent Davis. The local league has<br />

nine teams.<br />

Currently in Memphis, PRIDE Sports USA<br />

plays kickball and has plans to reintroduce sand<br />

volleyball in the summer. In the fall, the league will<br />

host another season of kickball and may introduce<br />

dodge ball during winter months.<br />

The PRIDE Sports USA national league hosts<br />

local kickball games and also hosts regional and<br />

national tournaments that occur throughout the<br />

year. To stay up-to-date on the tournaments, check<br />

out pridesportsusa.com.<br />

“We welcome all persons 20 and older and you<br />

have to be accepting of our community. Skill level<br />

doesn’t matter. We are family across all teams,”<br />

London says. “The first step is really just getting<br />

out of the car and showing up. It’s a lot of fun,”<br />

London adds.<br />

The teams play kickball in Memphis at Toby Park<br />

(Hollywood at Central), typically on Saturdays<br />

from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. Check out the facebook.com/<br />

groups/pridesportsmemphis Facebook page to<br />

stay updated on schedules.<br />

Blue - Alphabet Mafia<br />

Orange - DTF...Down to Field<br />

Purple - Lojanglers<br />

Yellow - Bunt Cakes<br />

Green - Home Wreckers<br />

Pink - Legit Snacks<br />

Navy - XL<br />

Gray - Pitch, Please!<br />

Maroon - Amazeballs<br />

Team Managers<br />

Geoffrey Fenlong, Larry Sedgwick,<br />

Gary Cook, and Brent Davis<br />

Page 22 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


life<br />

Page 24 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


When we were children, we<br />

learned all kinds of things. We<br />

learned things as vastly<br />

different as our languages and<br />

cultures, but one thing that was<br />

pretty much universal was<br />

coloring. Coloring was a way to<br />

teach us our lessons in a fun<br />

way.<br />

We were given crayons and<br />

taught to color. It kept us quiet<br />

in church or at the doctor. It<br />

kept us occupied on long car<br />

rides. It taught us what color<br />

was in the first place. We chose<br />

a color and started to scribble.<br />

All over the page at first, then<br />

eventually, gradually, we learn<br />

to color within the lines. We’re<br />

encouraged to color within the<br />

lines. It’s actually one of our<br />

first subtle lessons in<br />

conformity and striving for<br />

perfection, although we don’t<br />

know it. We get better at it with<br />

practice. There are contests<br />

and prizes for the best picture.<br />

Whose picture looks the most<br />

like reality? Who stayed in the<br />

lines and had the neatest<br />

picture?<br />

I can remember my first<br />

brand new box of 64 crayons.<br />

Five or six shades of blue, pinks<br />

and greens! Enough shades so<br />

you could actually draw your<br />

friends in living color instead of<br />

everyone being just one shade<br />

of brown or white. I was very<br />

proudly a Burnt Sienna color.<br />

The box even had a<br />

sharpener built right into the<br />

box. Sharp pointy edges were<br />

best for staying in the lines.<br />

Then, if you add a brand new<br />

book no one had colored in?<br />

Best thing ever.<br />

I loved the ones with flowers<br />

or the ones with crossword<br />

puzzles in them. I remember<br />

being in class in elementary<br />

school and kids jostling to get<br />

the unbroken crayons. There<br />

was a definite sense of let down<br />

if you got stuck with the<br />

leftover mismatched broken<br />

crayons. You remember? The<br />

ones the teacher had kept from<br />

the year or two before? Those<br />

were the naked crayons that<br />

the paper had been taken off of<br />

and that some of the color from<br />

the other pieces of crayon had<br />

transferred on to.<br />

They had dents in them from<br />

being held too tightly, or being<br />

nicked by fingernails. They<br />

weren’t fresh from a box of<br />

eight, or 32, let alone 64. Plus,<br />

everyone wanted the newest<br />

coloring book with all fresh new<br />

things to color. If you got an old<br />

book, you turned past all the<br />

half unfinished pictures, even<br />

the pages that just had a few<br />

marks on them to get to the<br />

new clean page. After all, the<br />

last person didn’t want to finish<br />

that picture, so why should<br />

you? They had colored outside<br />

the lines, used the wrong color<br />

for the ball, had the nerve to<br />

put wings on an elephant. And<br />

you can’t change one thing into<br />

something else, can you?<br />

When I became HIV positive,<br />

I started to become more of an<br />

affirmations person. Daily<br />

things I could say and read to<br />

remind myself I could and<br />

would survive day to day.<br />

Quotes and affirmations to<br />

encourage me to get up and<br />

function, and to take my<br />

medication, at a time when I<br />

wasn’t sure if I even wanted to<br />

live. Basically, they started out<br />

as a way to give myself<br />

something to do, until I could<br />

figure out what to do. One that<br />

resonated within me was<br />

“Broken Crayons Still Color.” I<br />

had been broken (or so I<br />

I can remember my first brand new box<br />

of 64 crayons. Five or six shades of blue,<br />

pinks and greens! Enough shades so you<br />

could actually draw your friends in<br />

living color instead of everyone being just<br />

one shade of brown or white. I was very<br />

proudly a Burnt Sienna color.<br />

thought), and I was trying to<br />

figure out how to turn the page<br />

for a fresh picture.<br />

When you break something,<br />

you start to look at it differently<br />

when you try to put it back<br />

together. Can it be outright<br />

fixed, or can it be repurposed<br />

into something else?<br />

Broken crayons are a perfect<br />

example. If you put tape around<br />

two pieces of a broken crayon,<br />

you still know it’s broken, and<br />

it’s weak where the tape is<br />

covering it up. Glue doesn’t<br />

stick well to wax, and as it heats<br />

up in your hand, it breaks again.<br />

Actually using the “broken”<br />

pieces is what works best here.<br />

The curves of broken crayons<br />

could still stay in the lines of a<br />

drawing and, in some cases, fit<br />

better along the edges and<br />

corners. The flat space created<br />

by a break? Perfect for shading<br />

and covering more surface area<br />

more quickly. If you take the<br />

only shade of Burnt Sienna in<br />

the bunch and break it in half,<br />

you can share and two people<br />

can enjoy the color at the same<br />

time.<br />

If I am like a coloring book,<br />

the pages of my book have<br />

marks on them — marks that<br />

make people turn past them,<br />

without seeing the potential<br />

underneath. The stupid yellow<br />

someone used to color my<br />

ocean could become a beautiful<br />

sea foam green with the right<br />

color blue layered over it. Could<br />

they see that the black lines<br />

drawn across the middle of the<br />

page over the green grass<br />

could be connected, and<br />

instead of being misplaced lines<br />

could actually be a stairway to<br />

the sky?<br />

My HIV doesn’t make me<br />

damaged or hazardous goods.<br />

It makes me a survivor, with<br />

more compassion for people<br />

and life. I could have chosen to<br />

let my early fears, anxiety and<br />

shame color me bitter and<br />

broken. It hasn’t. It’s a choice I<br />

have to make at intervals when<br />

dealing with stigma and<br />

ignorance.<br />

People are like crayons. We<br />

really shouldn’t pick over and<br />

through the broken ones to find<br />

only the traits we like. People<br />

don’t start out broken. Life<br />

situations, disease and<br />

addictions break them, leaving<br />

them naked with pieces of life<br />

rubbed off and transferred onto<br />

them. Doesn’t mean they can’t<br />

be repurposed into something<br />

pretty. Broken crayons, after all,<br />

still color.<br />

Bridgette Picou is a licensed vocational nurse in Palm Springs, California. She is also an active HIV<br />

blogger and contributor to the CDC’s “Treatment Works” public service campaign. This column is a<br />

project of TheBody, Plus, Positively Aware, POZ and Q Syndicate, the LGBTQ+ wire service.<br />

Visit their websites – http://thebody.com, http://hivplusmag.com, http://positivelyaware.com and<br />

http://poz.com – for the latest updates on HIV/AIDS.<br />

BE CREATIVE! /MAY+JUN <strong>2021</strong> / focusmidsouth.com / Page 25


arts+entertainment<br />

MEMPHIS MOVIE MASTER<br />

CRAIG<br />

BREWER<br />

by Chellie Bowman<br />

photos courtesy of Craig Brewer<br />

Brewer is a Memphian, first<br />

and foremost. And yes, he is<br />

also an extremely successful<br />

film director, producer, and<br />

screenwriter. His most recent<br />

project Coming 2 America<br />

(<strong>2021</strong>) was released on Amazon<br />

earlier this year, but you may<br />

also know him through some of<br />

his other films Hustle & Flow<br />

(2005), Footloose (2011),<br />

Dolemite is My Name (2019),<br />

and the TV series Empire.<br />

So what’s going on with you<br />

right now? Are you still actively<br />

involved with Coming 2<br />

America or are you working on<br />

new projects?<br />

I’ve moved on in regards to<br />

the fact that it was a huge hit for<br />

Amazon and I’ve never really<br />

had a huge hit before. I’ve never<br />

really had that experience in my<br />

close-to-20 year career. It’s nice<br />

to work so hard on something<br />

over a difficult time and<br />

everyone who is a part of it feels<br />

really good about it. Whenever I<br />

leave a movie behind it’s kind of<br />

like you’ve made this child and<br />

put it out in the world–it’s gonna<br />

get beat up, but maybe later it<br />

won’t get beat up, or maybe it’ll<br />

be praised now and beat up<br />

later. I’ve learned over the<br />

multiple projects I’ve done to<br />

love them as much as I can but<br />

to be at peace with everything<br />

and move forward.<br />

So I know I’m at this place<br />

where I’m supposed to be<br />

writing my next movies and<br />

figuring out what I’m going to<br />

do but I’m also just trying to<br />

recharge a little bit, trying to<br />

learn how to cook. I’ve never<br />

really been a person who cooks,<br />

and you know what it is, more<br />

so? I’m trying to identify my<br />

known unknowns, things that<br />

are in my life that I’ve either put<br />

off or I know that I’ve created<br />

some sort of mental block<br />

around because I don’t want to<br />

face something. Sports would<br />

be one of those. I like watching a<br />

basketball game but I’m not like<br />

my friends who know everything<br />

about it. I’m dealing with a lot of<br />

this masculine identity thing<br />

that’s been pushed into my head<br />

since I was a baby. We were a<br />

sports family. You know I guess<br />

I’m just going to embrace the<br />

fact that I watched musicals and<br />

joined musical theater and<br />

danced in ballet shoes and<br />

maybe I’m not a sports guy. But<br />

it’s also learning the things you<br />

don’t know all that much about<br />

and going, ‘Well do I like this?<br />

Do I not like this? Where is my<br />

head honestly with things?’ And<br />

now I’ve come to find I actually<br />

like cooking, it’s the closest<br />

thing to meditation I’ve found.<br />

You really tune everything out<br />

and jump in.<br />

What personality trait has<br />

gotten you in the most<br />

trouble?<br />

I think the thing that’s gotten<br />

me in trouble is also the thing<br />

that’s part of what I do, which is<br />

to say I like being in control,<br />

listening to a situation someone<br />

is going through, and finding<br />

the best way through it.<br />

A lot of my job on set is<br />

seeing people with a lot of<br />

insecurity, because it’s the arts<br />

and we’re putting ourselves out<br />

there on a high wire. You’ve got<br />

to listen, be nurturing and<br />

supportive, but also be kinda<br />

firm with it. And I think that<br />

what I’ve found the older that<br />

I’ve gotten is that sometimes<br />

that ekes out into friendships<br />

and relationships and<br />

sometimes that’s not good,<br />

sometimes people just want to<br />

vent, sometimes people just<br />

want to be listened to. I’m<br />

trying more and more to deal<br />

with empathy, but also let the<br />

people around me know that if<br />

there’s one thing I’m learning<br />

with age it’s that no one and<br />

nothing is certain and the only<br />

thing we can really do to make<br />

situations better around us is to<br />

let people know they’re safe. I<br />

think that’s probably the<br />

biggest thing.<br />

I work with a lot of younger<br />

people in the industry and the<br />

first thing I want to do is tell<br />

them, ‘Trust me you’re stressing<br />

about this too much. I’m not<br />

trying to invalidate that it is<br />

stressful, but as someone who’s<br />

been through a bunch of cycles<br />

of this if I could go back in time<br />

and talk to myself the one thing<br />

I would say is you’re putting too<br />

many life-altering ramifications<br />

on this one moment.’ That’s a<br />

very hard thing to tell anybody<br />

who’s in something. So I think<br />

the biggest thing for me to do,<br />

including with my kids and<br />

family, is to breathe a little bit<br />

more even though you’ve got<br />

an answer cocked in your brain,<br />

sit on it for a little bit longer and<br />

maybe just get used to saying<br />

‘How can I help?’.<br />

What’s the first thing you do<br />

when you get back to Memphis<br />

from LA?<br />

There’s a sense in Memphis<br />

that I have a family, that’s hard<br />

to have in Los Angeles. So when<br />

I’m there what I try to do is bite<br />

into the LA of it— go for a ride,<br />

walk through the park, go to<br />

Musso & Frank’s.<br />

When I come home to<br />

Memphis I have a tradition here<br />

at Crosstown that when I come<br />

into my apartment I always put<br />

on Booker T. and the M.G.’s<br />

Green Onions. There’s<br />

something about that song that<br />

just goes ‘You’re back, you can<br />

relax, you can let your tummy<br />

hang out a little more, you can<br />

be free of a little bit of<br />

judgment, you know everything<br />

here.’ I’m on the 10th floor over<br />

here so I like to go out on the<br />

patio and look out over<br />

midtown and it’s a very calming,<br />

peaceful experience—having<br />

Booker T. behind me and<br />

<strong>Mid</strong>town in front of me.<br />

Speaking of Crosstown, I heard<br />

Art Bar was reopening soon!<br />

That would be great.<br />

Whenever I would go to Art Bar<br />

I would say ‘Okay this place is<br />

Page 26 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


doing something right,’ because<br />

I was seeing the promise of<br />

what I was hoping this place<br />

would be—a very integrated<br />

crowd, everybody feeling like<br />

they were safe and welcomed.<br />

And I never thought I would get<br />

to a point where I would say<br />

that in relation to age. Like I<br />

never thought I’d get to that<br />

point where I would worry<br />

about that kind of exclusion.<br />

But I never feel that in Memphis.<br />

I’m turning 50 this December<br />

and I’m looking forward to it, for<br />

a number of reasons. My father<br />

died at 49 unexpectedly of a<br />

heart attack. I’m in that year<br />

where death could be around<br />

the corner and there’s<br />

something on a spiritual level<br />

where I wanted to get to 50.<br />

But also I think when you get to<br />

50 you’ve been through it<br />

enough that maybe you can<br />

transition into something else<br />

and there’s not so much fear<br />

attached to it.<br />

How does where you live<br />

influence how and what you<br />

make?<br />

I think that’s like the big<br />

question for me that I’ve had to<br />

answer a lot in this last year.<br />

We’re in a time right now that<br />

diversity and righting the<br />

wrongs of systematic racism in<br />

all industries is something we all<br />

have to do our part in. For me, it<br />

has been a little bit of a<br />

crossroads because a lot of the<br />

subjects that I’ve been<br />

interested in have<br />

predominantly African<br />

American talent or stories<br />

attached to it. For a white man<br />

there’s a level of responsibility<br />

that comes with it, being<br />

involved with content from a<br />

culture that’s not your own. I<br />

used to feel good about my<br />

place with it all, but recently I’ve<br />

been questioning ‘Well should I<br />

feel good about it? Is it my<br />

place to do anything like this?’<br />

And the only thing that I can<br />

really go off of to try to explain<br />

to people at least where I’m<br />

coming from is where I live and<br />

what I feel like my true<br />

influences are. I, of course, think<br />

that there should be numerous<br />

more African American men<br />

and women in the director’s<br />

chair. And I’m working right<br />

now to produce projects that<br />

are putting them there. It’s<br />

always been something that’s<br />

been a part of my production<br />

standards since Hustle & Flow.<br />

African American producers like<br />

John Singleton and Stephanie<br />

Allain gave me my start and I’ve<br />

always tried to surround myself<br />

with collaborators from cultures<br />

outside my own. I feel that I’ve<br />

been a better man because of it,<br />

a better director because of<br />

that kind of inclusion.<br />

I go back and forth on<br />

whether it’s something I should<br />

explore or something I should<br />

leave. It ultimately gets down to<br />

I can’t help what music I love, I<br />

can’t help what stories I love,<br />

and I can’t help but love the<br />

people I love and want to work<br />

with. And I think I just need to<br />

listen, learn, and if I’m doing<br />

something wrong let me know<br />

and I’ll try to be better with it.<br />

But Memphis really contributes<br />

a lot to that vibe that I feel very<br />

connected to. I don’t feel like<br />

I’m doing anything particularly<br />

false, I don’t think I’m doing<br />

anything that doesn’t feel like<br />

the same thing I was doing back<br />

in 1999 when I was making my<br />

first movie, The Poor & Hungry. I<br />

don’t think I’m doing anything<br />

different than Hustle & Flow or<br />

$5 Cover like we did. I feel like<br />

I’m still in my same zone. And I<br />

also try to explain pronouns to<br />

people in my family—if it’s<br />

going to make people feel<br />

good, learn it, roll with it. We’ve<br />

got to break out of the things<br />

that have been taught to us as<br />

the norm.<br />

What are your three favorite<br />

movies?<br />

What are you doing to me? I<br />

still can’t help it, I’m still always<br />

going to lead with Purple Rain. I<br />

have never screened Purple<br />

Rain with someone new and not<br />

fallen in love with the movie<br />

again. I love its operatic<br />

audacity, I love the costumes, I<br />

love the color palette, I love<br />

Prince, Apollonia, and The Time.<br />

Basic of a rock ‘n’ roll movie it<br />

is, it always inspires me—there’s<br />

something about the way it<br />

uses music that always floors<br />

me.<br />

Fiddler on the Roof, the<br />

musical. I love it. I find that the<br />

older I get the more I’m getting<br />

to understand Tevye a little<br />

more. There’s something about<br />

his struggle with change versus<br />

tradition—where’s the line?<br />

When are you going to be<br />

pushed too far for your beliefs?<br />

How much of what you believe<br />

was something that was just<br />

taught to you? I’m a sucker for<br />

musicals.<br />

You said three? I’ve got so<br />

many more than three. Okay, I<br />

can’t help it. I love Rocky. And I<br />

love it for a reason that a lot of<br />

people forget about with Rocky,<br />

which is that it’s about people<br />

who have a very low self-image<br />

of themselves and the dream<br />

that is so apparently beyond<br />

their capable grasp ultimately<br />

makes them better at being<br />

themselves. Rocky usually gets<br />

put under the category of a<br />

boxing movie, but it’s more<br />

meaningful than people realize.<br />

For me it’s about the<br />

construction of what I find so<br />

hard when I’m writing a movie,<br />

the third act. There’s a great<br />

quote by Truman Capote where<br />

he says that “Life is a<br />

moderately good play with a<br />

badly written third act.” I’m<br />

always finding that the third act<br />

is the hardest one to<br />

accomplish. Rocky goes into<br />

the third act not trying to win,<br />

but trying not to die. He<br />

ultimately doesn’t win the<br />

trophy against Apollo Creed,<br />

but stays standing with him for<br />

all ten rounds. I feel like that’s<br />

very human, that’s more human<br />

than a lot of things I’ve seen in<br />

cinema. When I’m pitching an<br />

idea to people in Hollywood<br />

they want that moment with the<br />

belt over the head and I always<br />

say ‘Well like yeah but a lot of<br />

people don’t have that.’ And I<br />

would also argue that the<br />

trophy is not ultimately what we<br />

learn in the journey that’s the<br />

win. The win may be something<br />

a little less tangible, something<br />

different than what everyone<br />

else assumes a win is.<br />

What advice would you give to<br />

someone who wanted to have<br />

a life creating film?<br />

I would say that where I went<br />

wrong in the beginning of my<br />

career was trying to copy what<br />

other people did. I understand<br />

the instinct of wanting to do<br />

that. If you’re doing that I think<br />

there’s benefit to what you learn<br />

along the way through<br />

imitation. Where I think I went<br />

right was on my first real<br />

completed movie, The Poor &<br />

Hungry, I really did feel like I<br />

was making my last movie. I<br />

used $20,000 of inheritance<br />

that I got from my father<br />

passing away and there was an<br />

element of bitterness I had in<br />

me because my dad wanted to<br />

help me make movies after he<br />

retired in his 60s, but he died<br />

early. It rocked my world a little<br />

bit, that there’s really no<br />

certainty in anything and you<br />

have to make your most<br />

personal mark as soon as you<br />

can. And what I mean by<br />

personal mark is make<br />

something that if the lights got<br />

turned out on you someone<br />

could look at that work and say<br />

‘Oh this is what matters to this<br />

person.’ You don’t need a lot of<br />

money to do that. You don’t<br />

need big stars to do that . But<br />

what you do need to do is look<br />

at your life and look at the<br />

things that are affecting you<br />

and the closer that you strike to<br />

the bone the more your work is<br />

going to be able to penetrate<br />

the membrane of the screen or<br />

the television or the laptop or<br />

the phone that this movie is<br />

playing on and reach the person<br />

who’s watching it. Because<br />

ultimately that’s what we’re<br />

doing with movies, we’re<br />

providing an opportunity for<br />

people to sit in the dark with no<br />

judgment on them, to watch<br />

something and realize that<br />

maybe some of the things in<br />

their life they’re not alone with.<br />

And no one ever really thinks<br />

about doing that with their first<br />

film but I think it’s what your<br />

first film should be about.<br />

Any last thoughts?<br />

The only thing I’ll say is don’t<br />

be too down on yourself if<br />

you’ve gone through this whole<br />

pandemic and you haven’t<br />

necessarily produced anything.<br />

Because I think that the things<br />

that we’re learning in it is gonna<br />

be soil for a garden somewhere<br />

down the line. And I think that if<br />

we kind of fall into an artistic<br />

depression about the fact that<br />

we maybe could have been<br />

more productive, well, I don’t<br />

think we should do that to<br />

ourselves. Try to find some<br />

purpose in the time that we’ve<br />

had to unplug, and then just<br />

inch your way back into that<br />

pool.<br />

BE CREATIVE! /MAY+JUN <strong>2021</strong> / focusmidsouth.com / Page 27


Openn inn Overtonn Park<br />

Luca Giordanno, The Slayinng of the Medusa, ca. 1680, (detail) Gift of Mr. annd Mrs. Hugo N. Dixonn 57.111


In the next pages, meet visual and<br />

performing artists with one simple goal:<br />

BE CREATIVE!<br />

BE CREATIVE! /MAY+JUN <strong>2021</strong> / focusmidsouth.com / Page 29


PRETTY USEFUL CO.<br />

Allie Mounce + Clare Freeman + Katie Mars<br />

by Savannah Bearden | photos courtesy of Pretty Useful Co.<br />

timeline, so you don’t set<br />

yourself up for failure or start<br />

to doubt you can do it.<br />

KATIE: Don’t be afraid of<br />

failure either. The worst that<br />

can happen is you go back to<br />

where you were before or you<br />

try again.<br />

From left: Allie Mounce, Katie Mars and Clare Freeman<br />

Pretty Useful Co., founded by<br />

Allie Mounce and Clare<br />

Freeman in 2016, started as a<br />

nights-and-weekends venture<br />

making “clever goods for fun<br />

people” — think nerd-chic<br />

enamel pins and sweetly<br />

illustrated stickers<br />

encouraging you to “send<br />

noods.” It has since grown into<br />

a full-time creative studio with<br />

clients ranging from Facebook<br />

to their favorite local<br />

bartender. With the recent<br />

addition of Katie Mars — the<br />

studio’s self-ascribed “Momager”<br />

— Pretty Useful Co. has<br />

found a way to turn “glowing<br />

joy balls” (their words, not<br />

mine) into tangible creative<br />

success in Memphis.<br />

Since this is the Creatives<br />

issue of <strong>Focus</strong> and you are all<br />

creatives, tell me: why do you<br />

do what you do?<br />

ALLIE: There’s nothing cooler<br />

than making a product that<br />

people love and buy and wear.<br />

It never gets old for me. I also<br />

really enjoy the process of<br />

branding. I love getting on a<br />

mind meld level with clients<br />

who are passionate about<br />

what they do and love what<br />

they make in the same way I<br />

love what I make.<br />

CLARE: I love connection.<br />

Whether it’s through our<br />

products or making<br />

illustrations and animations,<br />

it’s a way of connecting and<br />

creating community within<br />

that audience. The other thing<br />

is joy. Even when I’m under a<br />

tight deadline and stressed, I<br />

still have this, like, little<br />

glowing joy...ball. Wait, let me<br />

rephrase that.<br />

Nope, you’re on the record<br />

and that may be quoted in the<br />

article: “glowing joy ball.”<br />

KATIE: Just don’t add an “s” to<br />

the end of it and make it<br />

“glowing joy balls.”<br />

You’re still on the record and<br />

now “glowing joy balls” is<br />

definitely going in. Anyway,<br />

next question: which Pretty<br />

Useful project makes y’all the<br />

most proud?<br />

CLARE: That’s so hard. I love<br />

all of them. Right now, I’m<br />

really proud of our new<br />

portfolio site. We cranked it<br />

out really fast — like in four<br />

days — and it’s fun and has all<br />

of the personality that we<br />

wanted to put into it. And<br />

bonus: it also works well!<br />

ALLIE: The series of editorial<br />

illustrations that we did for bit.<br />

it was a really fun challenge. I<br />

love any illustration heavy<br />

project where Clare and I work<br />

together to come up with<br />

really concise, clear ideas from<br />

really vague concepts and<br />

make them readable as an<br />

illustration.<br />

What’s your best advice for<br />

folks that currently have a<br />

side hustle and want to turn it<br />

into their full time gig?<br />

KATIE: Take care of yourself<br />

first. You’ll do better work and<br />

you’ll do it more efficiently.<br />

CLARE: Create connections in<br />

your community. Whatever<br />

you’re working on, don’t be<br />

afraid to reach out and ask<br />

other people questions, even if<br />

it makes you a little nervous.<br />

We wouldn’t be where we are<br />

today if other people who had<br />

taken a version of our journey<br />

hadn’t shared some of their<br />

knowledge with us.<br />

ALLIE: Don’t wait for someone<br />

to give you permission. The<br />

biggest detriment to the<br />

development of my career was<br />

not giving myself permission,<br />

not feeling ready. You’re never<br />

gonna feel like you’re ready, so<br />

just go ahead and do it!<br />

Also, starting a business can<br />

look like such a daunting task<br />

that you’re too scared to even<br />

start. But just break it down<br />

and take a few steps a week.<br />

Give yourself wins that are<br />

concrete progress every day<br />

and be reasonable with your<br />

Final, very serious question:<br />

what are the top five emojis<br />

on your phone that are NOT<br />

faces? TikTok says these<br />

emojis represent your entire<br />

ethos. Mine are talky head,<br />

wine, fire, poop, and the SMH<br />

lady, so it checks out.<br />

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sparkles, martini glass,<br />

raccoon, and the big looking<br />

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ALLIE: Mine are stabby knife,<br />

sparkles, eyes looking, monkey<br />

covering its eyes, and double<br />

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KATIE: Mine are fire and<br />

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and a hot dog.<br />

Contrary to what they say,<br />

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These patches and pin are<br />

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all their work at<br />

studio.pretty-useful.co<br />

Page 30 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


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Where the Hell Are You?<br />

JAMIE HARMON<br />

by Sarah Rushakoff | photos by Jamie Harmon and Max Gersh<br />

<strong>Focus</strong> sat down recently with<br />

friendly Memphis<br />

photographer Jamie Harmon.<br />

He’s well known to many<br />

Memphians as proprietor of<br />

the Amurica mobile portrait<br />

studio, which has plenty of<br />

weird props set in a little silver<br />

trailer. Last year, Harmon got<br />

national attention for his<br />

Quarantine Portrait project,<br />

hundreds of distanced photos<br />

of local folks through the<br />

windows and doors of their<br />

homes. Where is he now? Just<br />

trying to keep his ideas fresh<br />

and his creativity going.<br />

What creative projects are<br />

you working on now?<br />

I’m trying to focus on<br />

photography and<br />

documenting things. I always<br />

take lunch hours and drive<br />

around and try to take a<br />

couple of pictures I like per<br />

week. A couple of pictures<br />

that I’m like, ‘Damn, I’m so glad<br />

I was here at the right time.’<br />

People have often said, ‘Hey,<br />

how can I buy one of those?’<br />

I’m not interested in having a<br />

gallery represent me, take half<br />

of everything, and then the<br />

people buying it are the ones<br />

with a lot of extra income. So<br />

my friend helped me make a<br />

website, jamieharmon.com,<br />

and I’m putting prints on there<br />

for sale. I’m selling things to<br />

people who could afford like a<br />

$30 print, without the cost<br />

being as much of a deterrent.<br />

Some people guard their<br />

tools of the trade from other<br />

people. You don’t do that.<br />

Why do you think it’s<br />

important to share info with<br />

other creatives?<br />

I don’t think I ever thought<br />

why I shouldn’t. I never<br />

realized it was something to<br />

guard. I feel I get a lot out of<br />

sharing with people. If we all<br />

shared more about ourselves,<br />

we would realize we’re not that<br />

much different.<br />

Now, if I have an idea I<br />

haven’t acted on at all, I might<br />

not be talking to everybody<br />

about it. Because I don’t know<br />

quite how I’m going to work it<br />

out, but I’m also not an idiot, I<br />

know someone might do it<br />

first. But once I’ve already<br />

done something and figured it<br />

out, I have no problem sharing<br />

every bit of it. I mean, most of<br />

it is just solving problems.<br />

If you, trying to figure things<br />

out and doing your own thing,<br />

could benefit from some tips<br />

that took me six months to<br />

figure out, why would I want<br />

you to struggle through that?<br />

It’s not like you’re a threat to<br />

me, and even if you were, I<br />

would hope even better for<br />

you. I would love for you to<br />

somehow find some weird<br />

niche that would make it to the<br />

Today Show, and sell books,<br />

and make your billions.<br />

What has been your favorite<br />

collaboration with another<br />

artist?<br />

Collaboration for me is not<br />

necessarily that we work on<br />

the thing together. You may be<br />

working on something and I<br />

come by and visit you and, and<br />

we talk. That’s how I feel when<br />

I like when I share information<br />

with people. I’m not trying to<br />

tell you how to do it. I’m just<br />

saying, here’s the outcome<br />

that would be from my<br />

perspective. Your perspective<br />

may be totally different and<br />

both of them are perfectly<br />

fine.<br />

You know I always pick up<br />

signs off the side of the road,<br />

and there was a Bank of<br />

America sign. Actually, the<br />

first date I ever went on with<br />

my now-wife, we went to grab<br />

that sign out of a parking lot. I<br />

had it laying in the garage for<br />

a month. A friend of mine saw<br />

it and said, ‘Well, if you turn<br />

the n upside down, it’s a u, and<br />

you’ll have Amurica. I was like,<br />

‘That’s it.’ Life is just one big<br />

collaboration all the time. You<br />

never know who’s gonna say<br />

something that makes it fit<br />

together.<br />

How did you come up with<br />

the idea for Amurica?<br />

I wanted a mobile portrait<br />

scene. Something I could bring<br />

anywhere. People could get in,<br />

I could take their portrait, they<br />

get out, I can move and it’s<br />

mobile. And I had used old<br />

campers in the early 90s as a<br />

one-hour photo.<br />

When I had accepted digital<br />

photography, I was like wait a<br />

minute, I don’t have to process<br />

anything. The images are right<br />

here. I can either email them or<br />

figure out some kind of printer<br />

system. I looked on eBay in<br />

2010 and found this camper in<br />

just the right size. I started<br />

fixing it up with my 11 year old,<br />

we stapled up all the lights,<br />

and we stapled up all our old<br />

pictures.<br />

I didn’t realize it was going<br />

to be something I could sell.<br />

As soon as I took a couple of<br />

pictures of people, they<br />

wanted to hire it for a party.<br />

That first year, 2011 is when it<br />

hit the road. I wanted people<br />

to be able to walk away with<br />

something, who might not<br />

have the internet, or an email.<br />

And it would look like<br />

something they would never<br />

forget. I wanted people to say,<br />

when they saw the picture,<br />

‘Where the hell were you?’<br />

And it worked.<br />

Page 32 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


CROSSWORD<br />

LAYSHIA ON TOP SURGERY<br />

ACROSS<br />

1 What’s in the stallion’s mouth<br />

5 Chiwetel Ejiofor’s “Kinky ___”<br />

10 IML winner’s accessory<br />

14 “M. Butterfly” star John<br />

15 Dana of “MacGyver”<br />

16 Heterogeneous mixture<br />

17 With 37-Across, Layshia<br />

Clarendon’s comment on her top<br />

surgery<br />

20 Hairspray name<br />

21 Shakespeare’s Puck, e.g.<br />

22 “Your Movie Sucks” author<br />

23 To one’s liking<br />

26 Type of leaves of grass<br />

29 Changes “Rent” for the big screen,<br />

e.g.<br />

33 Fuses again<br />

35 Hard shaft material<br />

36 Constellation over Rio<br />

37 See 17-Across<br />

39 Expected to come soon<br />

40 Biopic about Harvey<br />

42 “You guys” of old<br />

43 Fruit cover<br />

44 Lurer of phallic fish<br />

46 Strong joe<br />

47 Like a condom gone bad<br />

48 Like a top<br />

50 Poli sci subj.<br />

51 With 54-Across, Clarendon’s team<br />

(appropriate to her quote)<br />

54 See 51-Across<br />

57 “La Traviata” solo<br />

58 Prepare to pull it out<br />

60 Robert De ___<br />

61 Neighbor of NY<br />

62 High places with flat tops<br />

63 Friendly opening<br />

64 Cabin material for Republicans<br />

65 Fruity explorer?<br />

66 Cock ending<br />

DOWN<br />

1 Soprano Gluck<br />

2 “Gay Priest” author Malcolm<br />

3 The 411<br />

4 Apartment balcony<br />

5 Spelling contest<br />

6 Any song by Johnny Mathis<br />

7 Carol’s opening<br />

8 Florida gay film festival city<br />

9 Bombay title<br />

10 Meat substitute<br />

11 Personal lubricant ingredient<br />

12 Homophobic word, e.g.<br />

13 Poet Crane<br />

18 Swallow up<br />

19 Hardly ever<br />

24 Wipe over<br />

25 Corvo’s title<br />

26 Set up<br />

27 Bone-chilling<br />

28 Spitting alternative<br />

30 Professional with a foot fetish?<br />

31 Torso of Mapplethorpe pics<br />

32 Like a nocturnal emission?<br />

34 Appear to be<br />

35 Fingered<br />

38 Bird from down under<br />

41 Nairobi residents<br />

43 Money coming in<br />

45 Carnaval resort<br />

47 High arcing shot<br />

49 Disgraced former president<br />

50 Itinerant laborer<br />

51 Chemist’s condiment<br />

52 Ending with switch<br />

53 You may go down on one<br />

54 Iago, notably<br />

55 Singer Fure<br />

56 Long-ago time, to Shakespeare<br />

59 Half of a Hollywood name<br />

SOLUTION IS ON PAGE 21<br />

HOME SWEET BE CREATIVE! HOME //MAY+JUN MAR+APR <strong>2021</strong> / focusmidsouth.com / Page 33


TOONKY BERRY Muralist<br />

with Joan Allison | photo courtesy Toonky Berry<br />

On a scale of 1-10, how strict<br />

were your parents?<br />

Dad 10 and Mom 5<br />

Who was your favorite<br />

teacher? Why?<br />

I had too many great ones that<br />

got me here! If I had to pick it<br />

would be my high school art<br />

teacher Ms. Hendrix, if it wasn’t<br />

for her I wouldn’t have come to<br />

Memphis and attended<br />

Memphis College of Art.<br />

If your life was a movie, what<br />

songs would be on the<br />

soundtrack?<br />

Let it happen - Tame Impala<br />

Neighbors - J. Cole<br />

M.I.S.S.I.S.S.I.P.P.I. - Big<br />

K.R.I.T.<br />

What TV catch phrase do you<br />

most enjoy using?<br />

“Did I do that?” – Steve Urkel,<br />

Family Matters (classic ‘90s<br />

TV)<br />

What was your favorite toy<br />

growing up?<br />

I had a Tonka Dump Truck that<br />

me and my friends would take<br />

turns and get on and ride<br />

down the hill, LOL!<br />

What is the best piece of<br />

advice you’ve received?<br />

“A closed mouth don’t get<br />

fed.”<br />

What song do you have to<br />

sing along with when you hear<br />

it?<br />

Dragonball Durag by<br />

Thundercat<br />

What are your 3 favorite<br />

movies?<br />

Friday, Soul, Black Panther.<br />

Honorary mention LoveCraft<br />

Country (series)<br />

If you had to pick a new name<br />

for yourself, what name would<br />

you pick?<br />

I did technically LOL my name<br />

was Tookie then I changed it to<br />

Toonky, for many reasons but<br />

mainly because I drew a lot of<br />

cartoons and it looks and<br />

sounds better.<br />

What accomplishment are you<br />

most proud of?<br />

Being the first in my family to<br />

go to Art school and Graduate<br />

from one.<br />

What’s the most beautiful<br />

place you’ve ever been?<br />

When I visited one of my<br />

friends in St. Louis we went to<br />

The Missouri Botanical<br />

Gardens it blew my mind!<br />

What’s the most courageous<br />

thing you’ve ever done?<br />

I’ve jumped in front of a dog<br />

charging at my sister and her<br />

friend. My arm went in its<br />

mouth but luckily it was at a<br />

weird angle so it didn’t bite me.<br />

When you’re having a bad<br />

day, what do you do to make<br />

yourself feel better?<br />

Draw only personal work and<br />

binge watch anime or a TV<br />

series.<br />

What is the funniest thing you<br />

have ever seen a stranger do?<br />

I saw this guy in a truck<br />

showing out by burning rubber<br />

in a Walmart parking lot. He<br />

did it so much that both back<br />

tires popped LOL.<br />

How many days do you wear<br />

the same pants in a row<br />

before it becomes a problem?<br />

Since I paint, I re-wear shorts<br />

that already have paint on<br />

them to avoid messing up my<br />

nice clothes, LOL! I would do<br />

that up to 3-4 days max but i<br />

try to alternate days.<br />

What would your perfect<br />

Saturday be like?<br />

No work, sunny day, music<br />

blasting, and a drawing sesh<br />

w/the homies at the park!<br />

What’s your dream job?<br />

I’m doing it...Artist. I still have<br />

much to learn but grateful for<br />

what I’ve done SO FAR..<br />

Cake or pie?<br />

Love them equally, but Cake all<br />

day!<br />

Who is the kindest person you<br />

know?<br />

My mom would give the shoes<br />

off her feet to anyone who<br />

needs them.<br />

What was the funniest way<br />

that you have been injured?<br />

Not funny at the time but I was<br />

hit by a tree branch and it<br />

separated my collar bone from<br />

my shoulder. I had my<br />

earphones on while listening to<br />

my Walkman, and I suddenly<br />

noticed my family running<br />

away from where we were<br />

standing. Then BOOM!<br />

Something hit my shoulder and<br />

I looked down to find a logsized<br />

branch. Luckily I was the<br />

only one hit and it didn’t hit my<br />

head.<br />

As a child, what did you wish<br />

to become when you grew up?<br />

I knew early on that I wanted<br />

to be an artist.<br />

If you could have dinner with<br />

anyone from history, who<br />

would it be?<br />

My Granny just to tell her how<br />

the fam is doing and show her<br />

my art I created for her.<br />

Who would play you in a<br />

movie of your life?<br />

My lil brother, he’s a mini<br />

version of me but skinnier,<br />

LOL. If I had to pick a real<br />

actor, I would choose Brian<br />

Tyree Henry from Atlanta, just<br />

perm his hair and add glasses,<br />

LOL!<br />

What television show do you<br />

plan your day around in order<br />

to see it live?<br />

106 and Park on BET back in<br />

the day.<br />

If a genie granted you three<br />

wishes right now, what would<br />

you wish for?<br />

End of COVID-19. End of<br />

racism. End of hate.<br />

Page 34 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


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Michael Hildebrand Illustrator/Activist<br />

by Robin Beaudoin Ownby | Illustrations by Michael Hildebrand<br />

New York-based artist Michael<br />

Hildebrand is a transplant from<br />

Memphis, with his heart still in<br />

the south. His colorful<br />

illustrations in ink and acrylic<br />

gouache play on<br />

complementary colors, shapes,<br />

and moods.<br />

Describe your artwork as if I’m<br />

blind.<br />

I have friends in New York. I<br />

have a specific style. It’s very<br />

alive. Even when I draw<br />

something static, it always has<br />

some movement or flow to it. I<br />

don’t sit still well, so I think that<br />

passes on. I love either stark<br />

black and white, or I love every<br />

color you can put in something.<br />

I’ve loved color since I was a kid.<br />

A big painter in my hometown<br />

passed away and she left me<br />

some oil paints. Colorful, I<br />

guess, and alive.<br />

My subject matter is mainly<br />

the male portrait and male<br />

figure, I just love natural things<br />

and I’ve been lucky that I’m kind<br />

of cute and a lot of New York<br />

guys want to let me draw them.<br />

(laughs)<br />

I use acrylic gouache, which is<br />

flat but it’s there. I am the most<br />

impatient artist, so everything I<br />

use dries fast and it’s there.<br />

Every kind of acrylic paint and<br />

Bombay India Ink. The cover art<br />

here is digital, the struggle is to<br />

make it look like the paint feels.<br />

A self portrait by Michael Hildebrand.<br />

How did your art schoolwork<br />

develop to the portraits you do<br />

now?<br />

I have a good thing to say. I<br />

had an incredible illustration<br />

professor, Joel Priddy. It stuck<br />

in my head after college, that<br />

one important thing to learn is<br />

sometimes to un-learn things<br />

you learn in school. I had gotten<br />

so anal-retentive about stuff<br />

that didn’t matter. I’ve learned<br />

Page 36 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


to do what you’re strong at. I<br />

won’t ever be satisfied with<br />

what I do. I’m glad I went to<br />

college because I learned great<br />

ways to think. I went to<br />

Arkansas State University on<br />

scholarship, and I did these big<br />

chalk drawings because I was<br />

bored and was invited to be the<br />

student activities coordinator. I<br />

studied frat parties for my first<br />

two semesters, took a break,<br />

moved to Memphis, and luckily<br />

an older gentleman at my job<br />

told me I was talented, and I<br />

had to get a degree. I’ve never<br />

gotten a job because of my<br />

education. I had a double<br />

emphasis in illustration and<br />

graphic design, and a minor in<br />

Art History.<br />

Moved to New York around<br />

five years ago. Harvest design<br />

firm had me working remotely<br />

in Key West, which is a small<br />

town, but you can’t just leave. I<br />

biked a lot and went to every<br />

corner of the island. We lived<br />

right on a little canal, and I got<br />

to see nurse sharks, manatees,<br />

and huge tarpon. My friend<br />

suggested we go to New York<br />

for a week, and on our way<br />

back, he asked, “So how soon<br />

do you want to move?” I came<br />

at the right time in my life. This<br />

city is whatever you want it to<br />

be.<br />

My sketches- in the <strong>South</strong> if I<br />

saw you in the street, we would<br />

talk. I still have the face where<br />

people will talk to me. There’s<br />

loneliness in my work now. You<br />

can know people here but you<br />

never really know anyone. If you<br />

click with someone here you<br />

click. I’ve created symbols and<br />

things that represent the<br />

loneliness of being here. The<br />

animal/beast ones.<br />

Influence, both artistic and<br />

political/life. What message<br />

are you sending your<br />

consumer?<br />

Mixed messages. Lane Smith<br />

(illustrator, James and the Giant<br />

Peach) and Maurice Sendak<br />

(illustrator, Where the Wild<br />

Things Are). Sendak was a gay<br />

illustrator and I never knew that<br />

growing up. His work<br />

unintentionally really influenced<br />

me. Lane Smith is a complex<br />

illustrator, especially in the<br />

1990s. It’s always fun with a<br />

Handsome Faces 75, part of a<br />

long, loose series, Hildebrand<br />

says. The works are in progress.<br />

dark side to it. Their illustrations<br />

always made me want to draw.<br />

I’ve always been a part of my<br />

high school political scene, even<br />

before Bill Clinton and Bush<br />

Senior’s campaign. I knew it was<br />

going to affect me, without<br />

even knowing why. I’m glad I<br />

can help people pay attention<br />

to that stuff now. In my 20s the<br />

majority of gay people didn’t<br />

care, but older guys were<br />

political because they had to<br />

be, or they were scared shitless<br />

because of AIDS. Seeing the<br />

LGBTQ community gather in<br />

politics and support<br />

EVERYBODY, is beautiful to see.<br />

Transphobia in the community<br />

is infuriating. The book<br />

<strong>Mid</strong>dlesex helped me deal with<br />

my own transphobia. It helps<br />

you deal with your femininity<br />

and masculinity. All my power<br />

comes from my femininity.<br />

That’s also involved me in<br />

politics. Women didn’t have<br />

rights- they still had to fight.<br />

Do you judge a book by its<br />

cover?<br />

I don’t anymore. I think I did in<br />

growing up because I was<br />

taught to. People say don’t, but<br />

I think after coming out of the<br />

closet in high school, really<br />

meeting people and being as<br />

open as I was being that young,<br />

people felt they could be who<br />

they are. People are<br />

automatically pretty open to<br />

me. There’s something that<br />

meets in humanity and we will<br />

be cool together.<br />

What’s the worst thing you got<br />

away with as a kid or young<br />

artist?<br />

Great question. My sister was<br />

doing horrible things and I was<br />

the good kid. I’m so loud I got<br />

caught if I sneezed. I flew to<br />

<strong>Mid</strong>land, Texas to go to a prom.<br />

My boyfriend was from Hot<br />

Springs, Ark. and I went to go to<br />

prom with him.<br />

You have stayed in touch with<br />

and relevant to the <strong>Mid</strong>-<strong>South</strong>,<br />

what is your connection here?<br />

Even though I grew up in<br />

Arkansas, Memphis is what<br />

made me who I am. It’s really<br />

where I achieved a voice of<br />

some kind, as a person.<br />

Memphis knows me as a<br />

designer, New York knows me<br />

as a painter. My southern accent<br />

is still there- it’s not going away.<br />

My family and so many of my<br />

friends are still there. I read this<br />

morning they’re going to allow<br />

parents to opt-out of LGBTQ<br />

education in school. It’s such a<br />

dumb thing, and it’s important<br />

to me. Being angry is why I stay<br />

part of the political part, and<br />

from the distance I am, they<br />

can’t hurt me. Someone in<br />

Arkansas years ago doxed me<br />

(published my private<br />

information) and gave me a<br />

warning. I contacted them and<br />

was on the tiptoes of a lawsuit<br />

against them.<br />

I’ve been called slurs more in<br />

New York than I did in the<br />

<strong>South</strong>, which was surprising.<br />

How does a person view your<br />

art and do you have any shows<br />

upcoming?<br />

I have friends reaching out to<br />

do shows here and there. I have<br />

so much work I’ve done since<br />

moving to New York, so I hope<br />

to get a space and put up what I<br />

haven’t sold and have it as a<br />

timeline of what I’ve done since<br />

I’ve been here.<br />

I’ve always embraced the web<br />

since the ‘90s, just because<br />

people look at their walls so I’ve<br />

sold a lot of artwork in the last<br />

four months. Some people<br />

collect and have no more room<br />

on their walls.<br />

I’ve done commissions but<br />

have stopped doing commission<br />

portraits because I like to have<br />

the person in front of me. I<br />

haven’t been able to do that in<br />

over a year. It’s been a real<br />

struggle, and I can draw<br />

someone from a photo, but that<br />

doesn’t have any life to it. They<br />

just want a copy of a photo and<br />

I don’t do that. I’ll do<br />

commission illustrations. If I ask<br />

somebody over now, I want to<br />

already know them pretty well<br />

because of the quarantine. I<br />

want to make sure the person is<br />

comfortable and if they get<br />

nude I want them to feel it’s<br />

something they’re comfortable<br />

with.<br />

Contact:<br />

Michaelhildebrand.com<br />

IG: Michaeljhildebrand<br />

Check out the <strong>Focus</strong> cover and<br />

Theme Page art for more work by<br />

Michael Hildebrand!<br />

BE CREATIVE! /MAY+JUN <strong>2021</strong> / focusmidsouth.com / Page 37


TORI WHO DAT<br />

Singer+Songwriter<br />

by Olivia Roman | photos © Keenan ‘KG’ Greer<br />

Through grit, grind, and<br />

commitment to authenticity,<br />

independent rapper Tori<br />

WhoDat has earned her stripes<br />

in the Memphis rap scene,<br />

tirelessly building a brand and<br />

discography that champions<br />

positivity, resilience, and 901<br />

pride. Her diverse, evergrowing<br />

fan base—fittingly<br />

dubbed “Dat Krewe”—<br />

brilliantly illustrates her<br />

passion for writing music that<br />

“transcends barriers.” She lives<br />

in Memphis, Tennessee, and<br />

has spent much of her adult<br />

life working in the multifamily<br />

housing industry.<br />

As a kid, what did you want to<br />

be when you grew up, and<br />

what along the way guided<br />

you to choose music?<br />

Initially, I wanted to be an<br />

athlete, and went all-in on<br />

basketball until I injured my<br />

ankle. Realizing the injury<br />

would never fully improve<br />

pushed me to get more<br />

invested in my writing.<br />

I was also super involved in<br />

church at the time, strongly<br />

considering seminary, and was<br />

actually signed to a Christian<br />

rap label in high school. I kinda<br />

went from an athlete to trying<br />

to do something “safe”<br />

because I was so conflicted<br />

inside about my sexuality and<br />

how that aligned with my faith<br />

that I didn’t believe in myself<br />

entirely.<br />

Beyond that, what a lot of<br />

people don’t know is that I had<br />

a lot of health issues in high<br />

school and graduated early. I<br />

reached a crossroads and<br />

decided to move back to<br />

Memphis with my family after<br />

graduation. Looking back on<br />

all the things I’ve experienced,<br />

I can now see that there was an<br />

underlying reason. I went<br />

through something, but I got<br />

through something at the same<br />

time. And that’s something to<br />

be grateful for.<br />

Would you still identify<br />

yourself as a Christian?<br />

I had asked myself that after<br />

having a moment watching Lil<br />

Nas X’s new music video<br />

Montero. I was talking to my<br />

girlfriend about it and felt<br />

ashamed to admit to it, but<br />

told her that when I first<br />

watched the video and saw<br />

those images, I felt offended.<br />

And I had to immediately<br />

question myself and that<br />

reaction. I was like, “Whoa.<br />

Christianity doesn’t even have<br />

that power over my life<br />

anymore…but does it?” Its<br />

ingrained in you.<br />

I feel totally different about<br />

the video now after reflecting.<br />

I think it’s incredible how Lil<br />

Nas X has carried himself<br />

through this. He’s powerful. I<br />

love this generation; I love<br />

what’s coming. I’m so hopeful<br />

now—more than I’ve ever been.<br />

Do I appreciate a lot of the<br />

teachings of Jesus? Yeah! I<br />

definitely know there’s<br />

something greater than all of<br />

us, but what that is and if we<br />

call it God, I don’t know. I don’t<br />

feel the need to define it at this<br />

point in my life.<br />

It’s been said that artists and<br />

their cities have give-andtake<br />

relationships; that artists<br />

influence their city and, in<br />

turn, are influenced by them.<br />

How has Memphis—the<br />

culture, the history, etc.—<br />

influenced you?<br />

Memphis has such a rich<br />

musical legacy; it motivates<br />

you to level-up everything that<br />

you do. It keeps you on your<br />

toes! The culture here has<br />

created and influenced some<br />

of the greatest artists in<br />

history, so there’s a special<br />

spirit and sense of pride when<br />

you’re making music in<br />

Memphis—especially as an<br />

artist that makes songs with<br />

soul.<br />

I’ve had opportunities to<br />

record at Royal Studios and<br />

access to Memphis Slim and<br />

Stax Records—there’s just no<br />

shortage of inspiration.<br />

Memphis is just the source—<br />

people talk about how a lot of<br />

artists have had to leave<br />

Memphis to “make it,” but the<br />

reality is, no they didn’t. The<br />

business infrastructure that<br />

was lacking here when I first<br />

started is different now.<br />

There’s a certain respect that<br />

the city carries—when you’re<br />

from here and repping it, you<br />

have to walk with it too.<br />

What’s your favorite venue in<br />

Memphis for performing?<br />

I’ve performed all over the<br />

city, and there’s been a<br />

moment everywhere. Like from<br />

Senses Nightclub, to Spectrum,<br />

the New Daisy—it’s hard to say<br />

one. Some of my biggest<br />

shows have been at<br />

Minglewood Hall. I threw up<br />

onstage there, opening for<br />

B.o.B.! It was my first radio<br />

show, the 2014 KISS<br />

iHeartradio show, in the middle<br />

of one of my biggest songs,<br />

Krewedentials. And I had a<br />

moment, turned around,<br />

puked, and continued the song<br />

on the hook. And after that I<br />

go, “Y’all probably don’t want<br />

me to crowd surf on this song<br />

like usual because I just threw<br />

up!” and I hear them chanting<br />

“Crowd surf, crowd surf!” So, I<br />

did! I’ve had crazy show-day<br />

moments like that everywhere.<br />

Are you signed with a record<br />

label or are you independent<br />

and working with a small<br />

production team?<br />

It’s been important for me to<br />

Page 38 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


stick with people who see my<br />

heart instead of a dollar sign.<br />

Over the years there’s been<br />

opportunities for me to sign<br />

with different entities, but<br />

never without sacrificing<br />

something like creative control.<br />

I’ve had contracts in front of<br />

me trying to take 100% of my<br />

publishing—just ludicrous stuff!<br />

When you know what you<br />

have, you have to learn to be<br />

patient and let it come to you.<br />

You’ve got to strive for it, but<br />

you can’t be desperate for it.<br />

I’ve had the blessing of having<br />

two guys—Wheat Robinson<br />

and Keenan “KG” Greer, who<br />

work with Street Savvy<br />

Unlimited—since 2013, who<br />

have made me look signed<br />

through branding, artistic<br />

development, media, etc. Since<br />

the day I met them and sat<br />

down at Blues City Café at<br />

2:00am after a night at Club<br />

152, they’ve been my right and<br />

left hand. Any booking, shows,<br />

publication—anything that’s<br />

happened has literally been me<br />

at the computer really late at<br />

night, or my team, Wheat and<br />

KG.<br />

Let’s talk Billboard! How did it<br />

feel to get that feature and<br />

have your vocals in “Heather<br />

Grey” compared to those of<br />

Frank Ocean, Halsey, and<br />

Lorde?<br />

I was looking for ways to<br />

promote my new song,<br />

“Heather Grey,” pre-release,<br />

and knew that if I could get the<br />

right person to write about me,<br />

the right person could see it.<br />

So, I researched the writers of<br />

Billboard’s articles and DMed<br />

this one guy, Joe. We<br />

messaged, I sent him a private<br />

link for the unreleased song<br />

and asked if I could get a<br />

feature. He said, “We aren’t<br />

really doing stuff like that, but<br />

I’ll send it out to the other<br />

editors and see if they can fit it<br />

in.” Last I heard. I wake up to a<br />

text from Wheat; he just sent<br />

me the article. I immediately<br />

woke my girlfriend up. I was<br />

like, “I can’t even read this…I’m<br />

fucking in Billboard!” The<br />

writer and I, we’d never<br />

spoken! So, for him to have<br />

made such a strong statement<br />

about me and compare me to<br />

Frank Ocean—it was so special.<br />

What has helped you stay<br />

creative during the pandemic?<br />

Many artists feel it has left<br />

them rather uninspired and<br />

unproductive.<br />

Fixating on gratitude.<br />

Recognizing that I’m in such a<br />

blessed position regardless,<br />

especially comparatively<br />

speaking. I have a job that I<br />

was able to keep. It released<br />

that pressure. A lot of artists<br />

hit that creative wall because<br />

of the heaviness of the world<br />

and the pressure of financial<br />

strain. I feel like what kept me<br />

grounded was every day,<br />

waking up, looking at my<br />

apartment, and realizing that<br />

regardless of “Oh, I didn’t get<br />

to release my song and tour<br />

when I wanted to,” I am<br />

breathing, I have an income,<br />

and I am blessed, with nothing<br />

really to complain about when<br />

you put it in perspective.<br />

Keep an eye out for new music<br />

and fun updates from Tori by<br />

following her on Spotify (Tori<br />

WhoDat), Instagram, and<br />

Twitter (both @toriwhodat)!<br />

4615 POPLAR AVE<br />

SUITE 3 MEMPHIS<br />

901.590.3647<br />

MON CLOSED<br />

TUES-WED 10-5:30<br />

THURS 10-6:30<br />

FRI 10-5<br />

SAT 9-4<br />

COTTONROWUNIQUES.COM<br />

SUN 10-2


YANCY CALVO Artist<br />

by Chris Reeder-Young | photos courtesy of Yancy Calvo<br />

Where were you born?<br />

Mexico City<br />

What was your favorite thing<br />

to do as a child?<br />

My parents would take me<br />

and my siblings out of the city<br />

to “breathe” fresh air and to<br />

camp. My parents were very<br />

intentional in creating quality<br />

family time and helped us<br />

learn the importance of uniting<br />

with community. I learned so<br />

much about social justice and<br />

the things that can impact<br />

people who were different<br />

from me.<br />

What was your first art<br />

experience?<br />

My first art experience was<br />

through the National Museum<br />

of Anthropology in Mexico<br />

City. I was so blown away, and<br />

my first experiences with art<br />

were more archaeological,<br />

ancient, historic, and handcrafted<br />

cultural materials<br />

rather than more<br />

contemporary art. We also<br />

traveled around a lot, and we<br />

always saw so much<br />

community-driven art in the<br />

cities we visited. I loved seeing<br />

how people crafted things<br />

with their hands. These things<br />

influenced me, even though I<br />

had never engaged with an<br />

artist until I moved here for<br />

college. That was my professor<br />

(an awesome person named<br />

Pam Cobb who I trust to be<br />

supportive and honest in the<br />

most real ways). I loved<br />

large-scale pieces like the<br />

murals I saw in the cities we<br />

visited as a child.<br />

What led you to art?<br />

I was a Psychology major<br />

with a Marketing minor and<br />

later got my MBA. I try to put<br />

some of the general education<br />

courses at the end of college,<br />

so I could focus on my major. I<br />

had to take an art class or a<br />

music class or theatre as a<br />

requirement, so I just found a<br />

course that fit my schedule<br />

without much thought put into<br />

the actual course. That<br />

happened to be Acrylic<br />

Painting class, and I didn’t<br />

even know what that was! I<br />

had a major Aha! moment in<br />

that class, and I suddenly knew<br />

that was what I wanted to do.<br />

Unfortunately, it was too late<br />

in my college experience to<br />

start over, and I just wanted to<br />

finish my degree and move on<br />

to the next thing. I go back<br />

and think about my<br />

educational experience; when<br />

you’re young, you let others<br />

influence you and your<br />

decisions. I knew I loved art<br />

but didn’t know anyone who<br />

was an artist and I lacked an<br />

artist role model, and other<br />

people’s opinions mattered to<br />

me at the time. They said<br />

“you’re going to starve”,<br />

“there’s no future in this”, and I<br />

had to think about those<br />

things even though I was<br />

getting little messages from<br />

the universe that art was going<br />

to be part of my future. I didn’t<br />

act upon my art until years<br />

later. When I was working on<br />

my MBA, I had two desks: one<br />

desk was art and one desk was<br />

numbers and business. The<br />

hours would fly by deep into<br />

the night because I was<br />

working on art and would be<br />

having a blast mixing colors<br />

and creating. And I’d say “oh<br />

no, I need to turn in a paper<br />

for my MBA!”<br />

I love how artists can move<br />

through the tough parts of<br />

creating and let an idea evolve<br />

and adapt and modify because<br />

you know that you hold the<br />

inspiration and intention<br />

authentically inside of you.<br />

There is so much beauty in<br />

creativity; and, we call<br />

ourselves artists, but there’s a<br />

little bit of artist in everyone.<br />

The difference is that we trust<br />

in the unknown and trust that<br />

it’s going to be fine and if it’s<br />

not the result you envisioned,<br />

it will still be authentic. This<br />

process reminds me of what<br />

John F. Kennedy said, “if art is<br />

to nourish the roots of our<br />

culture, society must set the<br />

artist free to follow his vision<br />

wherever it takes him.”<br />

What artist/person inspires<br />

your art the most?<br />

I couldn’t pinpoint an<br />

inspiration; but, I could say the<br />

more I get into social justice or<br />

applied art, the more I look up<br />

to organizations that aim to be<br />

socially engaged like<br />

Alternative Roots, National<br />

Association of Latino Arts and<br />

Cultures, and Mural Arts<br />

Philadelphia, among others.<br />

When you get into this work,<br />

one thing comes after another<br />

and you find where you fit. At<br />

the same time, you can feel<br />

insignificant in this huge fight<br />

for justice. There’s never a<br />

truly original idea, but when<br />

you have passion and<br />

authenticity, you can<br />

transform your idea in a way<br />

that is applicable and unique<br />

to your community. When<br />

framed in that way, it IS an<br />

original idea that can be<br />

applied with others in very<br />

innovative, unique, and<br />

sustainable ways.<br />

What led you to Memphis?<br />

I was on my way home to<br />

Mexico City after doing some<br />

social work in Mozambique. I<br />

stopped in Memphis to visit<br />

my brother, who was going to<br />

Page 40 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


school at Christian Brothers<br />

University. I fell in love with the<br />

school, the campus, and the<br />

city!<br />

What is your favorite aspect<br />

of Memphis?<br />

I love the diversity and the<br />

ongoing potential of this city. I<br />

met my husband here, he’s<br />

also from Mexico City. My<br />

friend groups at CBU were so<br />

diverse, and there are so many<br />

diverse groups in Memphis as<br />

well. I don’t know if people<br />

know how diverse we are, but<br />

we are so rich in that aspect.<br />

The upside of Memphis being<br />

smaller than other cities, is<br />

that you are able to see the<br />

little differences your work is<br />

making, and to me, that is<br />

meaningful. If you are present<br />

and show up, you will be able<br />

to connect to other sectors<br />

and connect to different<br />

circles too.<br />

I see the applied intersection<br />

of art and social justice in<br />

your CV. Can you tell me more<br />

about the importance of<br />

representation of Latina<br />

women in public art spaces?<br />

It is essential to validate the<br />

existence of everyone<br />

regardless of race,<br />

background, religion, gender,<br />

and sexual orientation. Public<br />

art in neighborhoods should<br />

be created with and for them<br />

in mind; it should tell their<br />

individual and collective story<br />

providing a sense of belonging<br />

and identity. It is important for<br />

Latina women to be<br />

represented as well as every<br />

other minority; it’s about<br />

equality and access. Public<br />

artists, Latina or not, must<br />

strive to include the<br />

community in every phase of<br />

the art project; we must honor<br />

the stories and I strongly<br />

believe that we must serve as<br />

mentors to the youth of that<br />

community for at least the<br />

length of the period of the art<br />

project. Even if we don’t look<br />

like the majority of the<br />

community members, we<br />

(artists) should honor the<br />

space by acknowledging our<br />

differences, showing a<br />

willingness to learn about their<br />

history/story, involving them in<br />

the process, and creating<br />

artwork that exemplifies how<br />

art elevates everyone.<br />

I wrote a short piece on<br />

Native Voices that came to the<br />

Brooks last year, where the<br />

focus was on de-colonizing<br />

museum spaces and placing<br />

indigenous faces and artists as<br />

producers of art at the<br />

forefront (rather their culture<br />

and art being stolen and<br />

plagiarized by non-native<br />

peoples).<br />

Do you think that Latina<br />

voices and faces are lacking<br />

in public art and public<br />

museums?<br />

Yes, most definitely, like<br />

many minorities, Latinx art and<br />

Latinx artists’ voices<br />

(especially women) are lacking<br />

in public art and public<br />

museums. Parallel to the white<br />

Euro mainstream is the Latino<br />

male-dominated society where<br />

women artists’ contributions<br />

have not equally been<br />

highlighted. I feel this is slowly<br />

improving, museums are<br />

revisiting their approach and<br />

being more intentional.<br />

Why is public art important to<br />

you?<br />

The more ideas and<br />

collaborations you put out, the<br />

more we make art a platform<br />

for justice and expression for<br />

all. There is a great<br />

vulnerability to it as well. We<br />

can’t do public art by<br />

ourselves, and we can’t live<br />

and work in silos as artists and<br />

activists. It’s about stepping<br />

out of a singular idea into a<br />

bigger picture than myself and<br />

working with other masters of<br />

art realms to create a<br />

movement or an initiative.<br />

There are two parts of public<br />

art for me that are important.<br />

One is the actual visual piece<br />

of art like a mural or a<br />

sculpture. Urban Art<br />

Commission is doing a great<br />

job to bring art to communities<br />

and for there to be<br />

reciprocation in the creation of<br />

art. Not everyone has access<br />

to museums, or art galleries, or<br />

can even access the funding<br />

and materials to make art, so<br />

organizations that inspire and<br />

sustain artists and<br />

communities are very<br />

important. The second aspect<br />

of public art is how the visual<br />

art acts as a platform for<br />

community voices to be<br />

amplified and how that may be<br />

part of a broader social or<br />

cultural campaign. For<br />

example, I had a stake in the<br />

Memphis 3.0 planning process<br />

with city representatives,<br />

community members, and<br />

urban planners. It was an<br />

inspiring and innovative way to<br />

work in the comprehensive<br />

city plan because it included<br />

artists and community<br />

members and architects as<br />

well to weigh in on cultural<br />

expression and place. Art and<br />

artists have a way to gather<br />

rapport and perspectives that<br />

may otherwise be<br />

underrepresented. Go Explore<br />

Memphis Soul Art Initiative;<br />

Art & Neighborhood Stories;<br />

<strong>Issue</strong>s and Innovators: Urban<br />

Planning; Intersection of Art<br />

and Urban Planning.<br />

Do you think that youth have<br />

a role in public art?<br />

Youth represent a large part<br />

of Memphis, and they deserve<br />

to have ways to express<br />

themselves. If they don’t have<br />

ways to express themselves<br />

and make connections to their<br />

communities, then they will<br />

leave Memphis. This reminds<br />

me of a young woman who I<br />

met when I was working on<br />

the Memphis 3.0<br />

comprehensive plan who said<br />

she couldn’t wait to turn 18 so<br />

she could move away from<br />

Memphis. By the end of the<br />

initiative she had pride and<br />

hope and wanted to help other<br />

youth explore art and<br />

community as well. Art was a<br />

tool for communication and<br />

pride and belongingness for<br />

her. I went to schools and<br />

worked with kids on<br />

identifying things that are<br />

most important to them. They<br />

were so enthusiastic, and they<br />

drew pictures that represented<br />

their experiences and visions.<br />

It would break your heart to<br />

see the depths of their need<br />

for public art representing<br />

their experiences.<br />

Do you have a favorite<br />

project(s) that you’ve worked<br />

on in Memphis?<br />

It changes. I’m passionate<br />

about my current project<br />

because it was a national<br />

competition to showcase<br />

Memphis’ style and the talent<br />

that exists here. I’m also<br />

working with Latino Memphis,<br />

New American Economy, and<br />

Welcoming America on the<br />

Gateways for Growth project<br />

for new and aspiring<br />

Americans and to create a<br />

welcoming plan for Memphis.<br />

If you were starting an art<br />

collective tomorrow, what<br />

would the top 3 core values<br />

for your company be?<br />

I’d say that would come<br />

from my artist statement,<br />

“create awareness, engage in<br />

conversation, and encourage<br />

action on issues of social<br />

justice, equity, and community<br />

prosperity.”<br />

Where’s the most beautiful<br />

place you’ve been to?<br />

There was a hill that I would<br />

climb every day at sunset<br />

when I was working in<br />

Mozambique. There was<br />

literally nothing but open land<br />

and open sky. On one side of<br />

me was a setting sun with a<br />

range of brilliant oranges,<br />

reds, and yellows. And on the<br />

other side of me was total<br />

darkness and stars into night.<br />

Even though I can’t go there<br />

physically to have that magical<br />

moment, I can go there in my<br />

mind when I need to find<br />

peace.<br />

What is the greatest gift that<br />

someone can give another<br />

human?<br />

Time and presence.<br />

If you had the opportunity to<br />

have coffee with any artist<br />

alive or passed, who would it<br />

be and why?<br />

Ai Weiwei, he’s a Chinese<br />

artist. He does the most<br />

beautiful public art<br />

installations centered around<br />

social justice and poses<br />

challenging questions for his<br />

audiences.<br />

Do you have a dream project<br />

you’d like to see?<br />

I’m actually working on it<br />

now; it’s how to blend<br />

multicultural voices in art. We<br />

will see where it goes.<br />

BE CREATIVE! /MAY+JUN <strong>2021</strong> / focusmidsouth.com / Page 41


KERRY CUTRELL<br />

The YART Sale Creative Collective<br />

story and photos by Robin Beaudoin Ownby<br />

Kerry Cutrell, the creator of the<br />

YART phenomenon, calls it<br />

something for “anyone with a small<br />

business. Bakers are artists in their<br />

own right.” Encouraging<br />

Memphians to buy locally was the<br />

goal when Cutrell gathered<br />

creating friends for the inaugural<br />

YART sale in December 2020.<br />

What inspired you to bring artists<br />

together for the YART sale?<br />

In the pandemic, you couldn’t go<br />

shopping in stores, and as small<br />

business owners we still need<br />

people to buy from us, so I thought<br />

doing it outside would help get<br />

people out of the house. It’s safer<br />

for people, and it’s a small social<br />

gathering, which people haven’t<br />

had much of. It’s nice to be in the<br />

fresh air and talk to other people.<br />

What items can we expect to find<br />

at a YART sale?<br />

Ima’s Famous Buttermilk Pies,<br />

Jimmy Hoxie’s bread and pastries<br />

(Ginger’s Bread Bakery), Jewelry<br />

Reimagined: upcycled jewelry &<br />

trophy designs by Julie Nouwen,<br />

Amy Holland art, Tedy Treats for<br />

dogs by Lindsey Stanfill, Teas,<br />

skincare, and candles by From<br />

Eden Gifts, and furniture designs<br />

by Kerry Cutrell, with openings to<br />

add artists and vendors in the<br />

future.<br />

Julie Nouwen “I love that it’s outside, you can<br />

enjoy the weather and shop safely without<br />

worry of the virus.”<br />

Hugh Busby (aka Imagene Azengraber) is the<br />

face of Ima’s Famous Buttermilk Pies.<br />

Cutrell with shopper Diane Duke,<br />

Friends for Life Executive Director.<br />

Jewelry by Julie Nouwen.<br />

Your furniture is creative and<br />

colorful, what inspired your style?<br />

I was inspired by henna tattoos I<br />

got with a friend in New Orleans. I<br />

use henna ink because I like the<br />

fact that it stains the wood, and<br />

that design becomes a part of the<br />

piece of furniture. I like to<br />

incorporate carvings and inlay of<br />

crushed stone or mica powder to<br />

bring out the carvings. I also<br />

refurbish and do other work upon<br />

request.<br />

YART sales will be the first<br />

weekend of the month at<br />

756 S. Evergreen, Memphis<br />

To follow future sales or request<br />

to participate in future YART<br />

sales as a vendor:<br />

IG: kerrycutrelldesigns<br />

FB: kerrycutrelldesigns<br />

(Left) YART Sale shopper Marisa Actis, pictured with artist Kerry Cutrell, bought<br />

some earrings and one of Imagene’s Famous Buttermilk Pies. “As soon as I knew<br />

Hugh was going to be here,” she said, “I knew I’d walk away with a pie.”<br />

(Center) Jimmy Hoxie, Ginger’s Bread Co., said, he’s “drawn by the feeling of<br />

community with makers and the neighborhood.”<br />

(Right) Painter Amy Holland said, “It’s been fun meeting and talking to different<br />

people and artists that come up and shop.”<br />

Page 42 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


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endhiv901.org


CHRIS O’CONNER Filmmaker<br />

by Tricia Dewey | photos by Amelia Moore<br />

O’Conner says he’s learned that<br />

pursuing your dream is not easy,<br />

but that you can’t give up,<br />

you have to stay in the fight.<br />

This <strong>May</strong>, Chris O’Conner’s<br />

television, film, and animation<br />

production company, Prodigi<br />

Arts, together with PBS,<br />

Alabama Public Television, and<br />

Longleaf Studios (Jacksonville<br />

State University’s production<br />

company) released The Fire in<br />

Anniston – A Freedom Riders’<br />

Story, a documentary that tells<br />

a particularly harrowing piece<br />

of the Freedom Riders’ story.<br />

Sixty years ago on <strong>May</strong> 14, 1961,<br />

a Greyhound bus carrying<br />

Freedom Riders, Black and<br />

White passengers riding buses<br />

to integrate interstate travel by<br />

bus, arrived in Anniston, Ala.,<br />

to find the bus station locked.<br />

What ensued was one of the<br />

most terrifying stories of the<br />

Freedom Riders’ 1961<br />

campaign. The Freedom<br />

Riders’ bus was attacked by a<br />

group led by a KKK leader and<br />

basically abandoned to the<br />

mob by local police. The bus<br />

was eventually firebombed by<br />

the mob, who attempted to<br />

trap the passengers inside.<br />

Prodigi Arts was tasked by<br />

PBS, Alabama Public<br />

Television, and Longleaf<br />

Studios to tell this story from<br />

the Anniston perspective. The<br />

Greyhound bus station where<br />

the events unfolded was<br />

designated a National<br />

Monument in 2017. Prodigi<br />

interviewed survivors, some of<br />

the children of KKK members,<br />

and other people in the city.<br />

This latest documentary for<br />

Prodigi Arts is a culmination of<br />

O’Conner’s vision that began<br />

while he was still a student at<br />

MTSU. In 2005 O’Conner<br />

founded Prodigi Arts, while<br />

studying visual effects and<br />

animation there. O’Conner was<br />

a <strong>Mid</strong>town kid who attended<br />

Snowden Elementary and<br />

Central High School. MTSU was<br />

the only school that was<br />

nearby that offered visual<br />

effects and animation as a<br />

major.<br />

O’Conner has a passion for<br />

art. He is an artist himself, a<br />

painter and sculptor, and as a<br />

child he was a professional<br />

performer until he went to<br />

college. Music was his passion.<br />

At MTSU he decided to launch<br />

into film and filmmaking. He<br />

always wanted to know how<br />

movies were made, how the<br />

visual effects were happening.<br />

“Visual effects really<br />

captivated me. It was an<br />

extension of my art so I was<br />

really intrigued by that and I<br />

wanted to get into the film<br />

industry. I always thought I’d<br />

get a job at Marvel or Pixar. But<br />

the entrepreneur in me--my<br />

father’s an entrepreneur--so i<br />

grew up with quite a bit of<br />

business savvy, that kind of<br />

propelled me to start my own<br />

business.”<br />

When he started the<br />

production company, the<br />

whole goal was to bring his<br />

knowledge of visual effects.<br />

O’Conner explains, “Instead of<br />

taking that knowledge to<br />

California or New York and<br />

moving there, he wanted to<br />

bring power and skill sets back<br />

to Memphis.” O’Conner felt<br />

that these production skills<br />

were not being offered to<br />

companies in Memphis. “There<br />

are a lot of Fortune 500<br />

companies here who were<br />

outsourcing work to California,<br />

New York, and Atlanta. We<br />

quickly gained rapport with<br />

lots of companies and started<br />

getting great work and<br />

opportunities with the larger<br />

companies, FedEx and<br />

AutoZone, working with other<br />

agencies in Memphis, Red<br />

Rover Marketing, and even Ray<br />

Rico’s company. And the rest is<br />

history. We took off from there.<br />

And now the company has<br />

grown quite a bit.” Memphis<br />

Page 44 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


The Prodigi Arts team<br />

on set. Below, the<br />

poster for the PBS<br />

documentary they<br />

produced, The Fire<br />

in Anniston, based<br />

on the real events<br />

of a group of 1960s<br />

Freedom Riders.<br />

gave O’Conner a kind of<br />

business credibility that he has<br />

expanded into offices in both<br />

Los Angeles and Memphis.<br />

Prodigi got its start in<br />

corporate and commercial<br />

video production but always<br />

made entertainment its<br />

ultimate goal. O’Conner<br />

continues, “We love telling<br />

stories. Even when we were<br />

filming corporate videos with<br />

executives, we produced the<br />

videos with a documentarystyle<br />

treatment, taking viewers<br />

behind the scenes of multimillion-dollar<br />

and even<br />

multi-billion-dollar<br />

organizations. We’ve filmed<br />

over 100 companies with this<br />

documentary-style treatment.<br />

Documentary filmmaking was<br />

a natural progression.”<br />

They are now working on<br />

several other documentaries,<br />

including four documentaries<br />

in total with the PBS group.<br />

The vision and the dream<br />

include expanding to produce<br />

their own content. But<br />

O’Conner says “The FIre In<br />

Anniston has definitely been<br />

our most meaningful and most<br />

important project to date,<br />

especially due to all of the civil<br />

unrest going on in the country.<br />

We were contracted to do the<br />

project just before the murder<br />

of Ahmaud Arbery. Shortly<br />

after, many other officerrelated<br />

killings involving<br />

African Americans would take<br />

place, including the killing of<br />

George Floyd, leading to riots,<br />

protests, and civil unrest.” He<br />

feels that current unrest<br />

heightened the importance of<br />

telling this story of the unity<br />

among races in the fight for<br />

civil rights. “This was especially<br />

challenging for me, being<br />

African American, as the<br />

producer, writer, and director<br />

of the film. For me, the timing<br />

of this project seemed<br />

ordained by God. In terms of us<br />

[Prodigi Arts] getting this<br />

project, I struggled to<br />

understand why me and why<br />

now. At times it felt like a<br />

blessing and other times it felt<br />

like a burden. Though it was<br />

tough at times, we completed<br />

the project and I must say that<br />

I feel honored and<br />

blessed that my team<br />

and I were chosen to tell<br />

this story.”<br />

One thing that<br />

surprised him in the<br />

documentary was that<br />

many of the White and<br />

Jewish Freedom Riders<br />

who risked their lives<br />

fighting alongside the<br />

Black Freedom Riders<br />

were wealthy. They lived<br />

good lives and didn’t have to<br />

get involved, but they just<br />

couldn’t stand by and watch<br />

African Americans be<br />

mistreated. They put<br />

everything, including their<br />

lives, on the line and they<br />

didn’t have to.<br />

In addition to developing the<br />

entertainment section of the<br />

company, O’Conner and the<br />

group are working on live<br />

entertainment ventures in<br />

several states around the<br />

country scheduled to debut in<br />

Memphis in October <strong>2021</strong>. They<br />

will be seeking local talent--<br />

actors, performers, dancers,<br />

artists, set designers, and<br />

musicians--for this vision. He is<br />

very passionate about bringing<br />

these projects to Memphis first.<br />

O’Conner has learned that<br />

it’s hard to pursue your dream,<br />

but you can’t give up, you have<br />

to stay in the fight. And he<br />

wants to shine a light on his<br />

team who have helped to get<br />

Prodigi Arts where it is today.<br />

Joel Evans, his Emmy Awardwinning<br />

director of<br />

photography and fellow MTSU<br />

grad, in particular brings<br />

amazing expertise, but without<br />

the whole group attaining his<br />

vision would not be possible.<br />

BE CREATIVE! /MAY+JUN <strong>2021</strong> / focusmidsouth.com / Page 45


A Magical Mix<br />

MATT PETTY +<br />

CRISTY MICHEL<br />

by <strong>Focus</strong> Staff | photo courtesy of Matt Petty<br />

You Can Call Me Sir is an<br />

electronic rock collective<br />

featuring Louisiana-bred, LA<br />

based dominatrix Cristy Michel<br />

(vocals, guitars, bass, beats<br />

- both meanings) and Memphis<br />

based experimentalist Matt<br />

Petty (electronic trombone,<br />

found sounds, moody<br />

elements, verbiage). Their<br />

music meanders through<br />

rodeos and badlands, ambles<br />

into the disco and is darkly<br />

entertaining. Their music has<br />

been featured in Paper<br />

Magazine, OUTFEST LGBTQ<br />

Film Festival, and Flaunt, and<br />

can be heard at the usual<br />

online stores.<br />

Why Sir?<br />

Sir: About 10 years ago, a<br />

friend called me at 10 p.m. and<br />

asked me to attend a party.<br />

We were co-workers at a<br />

commercial dungeon in Los<br />

Angeles called The Dominion.<br />

They needed the skills of a<br />

professional dominatrix. As<br />

soon as the door opened a<br />

woman asked my name. I<br />

smiled and said, “You can call<br />

me Sir!” She never forgot my<br />

name after that.<br />

What made you decide to<br />

form a band?<br />

Matt: We met at an artist<br />

residency in California in 2016.<br />

We immediately bonded. We<br />

both believe that music is a<br />

form of freedom. Its the purest<br />

way of receiving emotions,<br />

vibrations. It could definitely<br />

impact the future. We are very<br />

fortunate to harness that<br />

power.<br />

How would you best describe<br />

your music?<br />

Matt: When I think about the<br />

specific genres that have<br />

influenced our music I might<br />

call it ethereal post-punkexperimental-indie-new<br />

age-goth-rock. Our<br />

backgrounds overlap in<br />

interesting ways. Cristy’s<br />

experience playing in punk<br />

bands and Matt’s experience<br />

performing experimental and<br />

classical music have a lot to do<br />

with how we approach our<br />

writing. We both admit our<br />

influence coming from the<br />

<strong>South</strong>ern US as having an<br />

impact as well. The fact that<br />

we use an alternative<br />

instrumentation (guitars, bass,<br />

electronic trombone, found<br />

sounds) and have a larger<br />

picture of what our music<br />

represents brings it more<br />

toward the genre of popular<br />

art music. <strong>May</strong>be the catch all<br />

term would be alternative<br />

music.<br />

Are you spiritual or religious<br />

in any way? If so how?<br />

Matt: The music we make<br />

reflects on magic and rituals<br />

that we participate in, either<br />

accidentally or self-curated,<br />

and how these rituals have an<br />

effect on our lived identities.<br />

During quarantine we<br />

performed in a few queer<br />

witch rituals via Zoom. We also<br />

like to use a lot of freaky<br />

imagery, which is definitely<br />

inspired by occult mysticism.<br />

We have a reoccurring theme<br />

of the occult that parallels with<br />

our own alternative lifestyles.<br />

So in way yes, we make Queer<br />

Magic at its darkest.<br />

What are the issues that are<br />

closest to your heart?<br />

Matt: Worldwide freedom<br />

and equality. Women’s rights.<br />

Children’s rights. LGBTQ<br />

rights. The multiple collisions<br />

of race and culture that are<br />

embedded in every corner of<br />

the world.<br />

Has trans visibility in the last<br />

few years significantly<br />

changed things for the<br />

better?<br />

Matt: Absolutely. It’s<br />

empowering to feel<br />

comfortable in our own skin.<br />

But it is also a form of<br />

expression that is so<br />

connected to physical being.<br />

Its inspiring to see that<br />

freedom.<br />

What does gay liberation<br />

mean for you today?<br />

Matt: Through the pandemic<br />

and everything else, the<br />

community has come so far,<br />

and still has a long way to go.<br />

There is a generational<br />

suffering that still has to heal.<br />

There is still a tremendous<br />

amount of pressure that queer<br />

people are under from their<br />

families and society in general.<br />

Queer people around the<br />

world still live in danger every<br />

day, And there are still<br />

anti-trans legislation being<br />

written in <strong>2021</strong>. 2020 was a<br />

year for opening our eyes to<br />

these things. I recognize where<br />

I’ve come from, and I often<br />

wonder how different my life<br />

would be if I never felt<br />

ashamed for simply existing. I<br />

think its important for the<br />

community to share their<br />

experiences, to protect one<br />

another, and to continue the<br />

progress for the gaybies of the<br />

future.<br />

What’s your message to the<br />

gaybies of the world?<br />

Matt: Don’t be afraid to<br />

explore yourself, your gender<br />

and your sexuality. Don’t<br />

forget your brothers and<br />

sisters who came before you,<br />

AIDS, and the time when being<br />

a homo was illegal. Don’t get<br />

too comfortable, we have<br />

more work to do for our<br />

community.<br />

Page 46 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


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arts+entertainment<br />

by Ray Rico<br />

As someone who goes between being an introvert and an extrovert,<br />

I have found that it sometimes takes clear focus to stay engaged<br />

in the work I’m doing. I came up with a few tips that work for me<br />

and thought I’d share them in hopes that they could help<br />

inspire you, motivate you, or just get you unstuck.<br />

RICO’S 7 TIPS FOR STAYING CREATIVE<br />

1. Do nothing. This is exactly what it<br />

sounds like. Take a moment to seclude<br />

yourself and break any distractions for<br />

your mind or space. Close your eyes<br />

and simply be. Take 2 minutes and<br />

literally do nothing. In cases where I find<br />

myself overwhelmed this simple<br />

practice helps me to get back on track.<br />

It is proven to allow your mind and body<br />

both a moment to relax. <strong>Focus</strong> on your<br />

breathing and do nothing.<br />

2. Do something. There is great pride in<br />

accomplishing something but many<br />

times we get so caught up in finishing<br />

larger projects or bigger tasks that we<br />

oftentimes forget to celebrate the daily<br />

and sometimes hourly<br />

accomplishments. When you set<br />

yourself a goal to do something and<br />

make it achievable, your mind can begin<br />

to allow yourself good feelings. Be fair<br />

for what you can do and go do<br />

something.<br />

3. Get out. Get up. Get outside. Get out<br />

of your room. Get out of the office. Get<br />

out. A good change of scenery can<br />

provide you a break and allow your<br />

thoughts to consider different<br />

perspectives of what might be<br />

stumping you. If you’re stuck, get out of<br />

your comfort zone and step out.<br />

4. Refuel. Good coffee, a tasty snack,<br />

and edible delights are good ways to<br />

encourage a good working space.<br />

Making sure your body is fueled will<br />

help fuel your thoughts. Nobody likes<br />

working hungry; refuel.<br />

5. Awaken your senses. Light a candle.<br />

Stretch. Do a dance. Sing along to<br />

Alexa, (I know you do anyway). Do<br />

something that engages your other<br />

senses. Typically when we are working<br />

or creating something or working on a<br />

project we don’t fully engage all of our<br />

senses. This helps me to remember to<br />

breathe, listen more carefully, feel the<br />

moment, see beyond the work, and<br />

taste the fruits of my labor.<br />

6. Pause. Take a moment for a break.<br />

When I have big projects to work on, I<br />

take them in bite sizes. Making sure to<br />

always take a 5-minute break. It allows<br />

me time to see what I’ve done. Review<br />

my direction. Ensure my process. And<br />

look ahead to what I have yet to<br />

complete. It is also a good time to do<br />

one of the above tips like dance or step<br />

outside.<br />

7. Proceed. My last tip is to proceed. No<br />

project is perfect and things come up. If<br />

you find yourself stuck or<br />

understanding that things might not<br />

turn out the way you thought,<br />

acknowledge it and find a way to<br />

proceed. If you consider nothing is a<br />

failure, only an opportunity to learn<br />

something you always succeed. Don’t<br />

linger though. Process and proceed.<br />

Page 48 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


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lgbt history<br />

The OUTMemphis Roll of Honor<br />

story and images by Vincent Astor<br />

Page 50 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


As the years pass people,<br />

quite naturally, are occupied<br />

with their own time and<br />

place. Particularly for those<br />

in our community today, for<br />

whom much history has<br />

either been forgotten or<br />

erased, acknowledging our<br />

pioneers is crucial to our<br />

collective preservation. It<br />

took many years before the<br />

word “homosexual” was<br />

replaced by “gay” or<br />

“lesbian” in mainstream<br />

media. The stories of our<br />

struggles, even as recent as<br />

the twentieth century, tend<br />

to fall into the “OK, Boomer”<br />

category of obsolescence to<br />

younger people.<br />

OUTMemphis has an<br />

ongoing creative effort<br />

which combats this by<br />

uplifting the legacies of<br />

Memphis’ LGBTQ+<br />

trailblazers.<br />

The Roll of Honor,<br />

photographs displayed at<br />

the Cooper St. location of<br />

OUTMemphis, is such a<br />

project. It is the combined<br />

brainchild of former<br />

Executive Director Will Batts<br />

and community historian<br />

Vincent Astor. The first<br />

plaques were assembled for<br />

the 25th anniversary and<br />

displayed at the celebration.<br />

When OUTMemphis<br />

acquired its first property at<br />

892 <strong>South</strong> Cooper St. a<br />

group of individuals who<br />

spearheaded that effort<br />

were dubbed “Benefactors.”<br />

Their portraits were hung in<br />

the largest room which was<br />

named “Benefactor Hall.”<br />

For convenience’s sake,<br />

these portraits were later<br />

combined onto a plaque that<br />

still hangs in that room.<br />

The format of that plaque<br />

was used to honor and<br />

remember many of Memphis’<br />

LGBTQ+ pioneers who were<br />

felt to be critical and<br />

important to the<br />

development of the<br />

community we now have.<br />

Each person made a unique<br />

commitment and had a<br />

positive impact.<br />

The Benefactors were<br />

honored on the prototype<br />

plaque and therefore the<br />

first on the long list. The Roll<br />

of Honor includes people<br />

from many areas of<br />

influence—founders of<br />

institutions and<br />

organizations, bar owners,<br />

persons who set examples,<br />

and persons of unique<br />

personal qualities. This<br />

ongoing list of changemakers<br />

spans the spectrum<br />

of race and sexuality,<br />

celebrating the rich diversity<br />

that characterizes Memphis’<br />

LGBTQ+ community.<br />

This list was never meant<br />

to be finite. In fact,<br />

OUTMemphis has committed<br />

to add to it and continues to<br />

honor those of more recent<br />

times. The recipients of the<br />

<strong>Focus</strong> Magazine awards are<br />

represented as well in a<br />

different format.<br />

Stephanie Reyes, Deputy<br />

Director of OUTMemphis, is<br />

coordinating this project.<br />

“New honorees were added<br />

on the OUTMemphis website<br />

in 2019. A committee was<br />

assembled with nominees<br />

coming from the community.<br />

We will add to it every five<br />

years but may add honorees<br />

any time. We want to include<br />

people not necessarily<br />

involved with OUTMemphis.<br />

We want to include many<br />

people active in the<br />

community. People will need<br />

to have committed to<br />

longevity of service. Allies<br />

can now also be included.<br />

These individuals made<br />

long-lasting contributions.<br />

However, the committee did<br />

vote on the individuals who<br />

had the greatest impact.”<br />

Nearly 100 individuals were<br />

nominated and 25 were<br />

added. “The present<br />

webpage will be updated<br />

and much more userfriendly.<br />

I really think that<br />

preserving certain artifacts<br />

is very important for<br />

younger people. I’m very<br />

positive about knowing our<br />

history.”<br />

Six people who published<br />

local periodicals (Gaiety,<br />

Gaze, Triangle Journal News,<br />

Family and Friends) are<br />

included. Religious<br />

organizations are<br />

represented as are social<br />

organizations. Service<br />

organizations such as Pride,<br />

Friends for Life, and the<br />

Krewes of Aphrodite and<br />

Pegasus are represented.<br />

While photos of certain<br />

individuals and organizations<br />

could not be located, their<br />

names are still enshrined on<br />

the plaques, securing them a<br />

place in our community’s<br />

public memory. Actors,<br />

activists, fundraisers, and<br />

corporate organizers are<br />

among the honored. The<br />

longevity of an individual<br />

and/or institution’s<br />

community service was also<br />

taken into account. One<br />

plaque is composed entirely<br />

of memorable drag<br />

entertainers who did their<br />

part during their careers to<br />

raise money, awareness, and<br />

pride—and also entertain.<br />

At its inception,<br />

suggestions came from<br />

many sources, and an<br />

agreement was reached as<br />

to the importance of those<br />

so honored. While some of<br />

the original honorees are<br />

deceased, many are still with<br />

us today. A key to these<br />

photos and names is kept at<br />

the reception desk for those<br />

interested. There, one can<br />

find a short description of<br />

the importance of those on<br />

the list.<br />

A complete list and photos<br />

of the plaques appear online.<br />

Close to 150 individuals and<br />

organizations appear in the<br />

Roll of Honor so publishing<br />

them all here would not do<br />

any of them justice. Let it<br />

only be said that they are<br />

remembered.<br />

BE CREATIVE! /MAY+JUN <strong>2021</strong> / focusmidsouth.com / Page 51


health+wellness<br />

Meet the new New Executive Director of<br />

CHOICES: Memphis Center for Reproductive Health!<br />

JENNIFER PEPPER<br />

story by Jade Wong | photo courtesy of Abortion Care Network<br />

CHOICES sees a need in patients<br />

and is not afraid to fill<br />

that gap in service.<br />

CHOICES has really occupied<br />

that spot at the front of the pack<br />

in justice and access in healthcare.<br />

This past year has been one<br />

for the books and that is<br />

certainly true for CHOICES—a<br />

nonprofit comprehensive<br />

reproductive and sexual<br />

healthcare clinic. Along with<br />

moving into a new, innovative<br />

building, CHOICES has also<br />

welcomed a new Executive<br />

Director, Jennifer Pepper.<br />

Pepper is a longtime<br />

Memphian with a long history<br />

of being dedicated to nonprofit<br />

work and advocating for<br />

reproductive and sexual<br />

healthcare. As early as middle<br />

school, Pepper has been<br />

engaged with this work, which<br />

she carried through her<br />

educational experiences at<br />

Rhodes College. At Rhodes<br />

College, Pepper utilized her<br />

opportunities within the<br />

Anthropology and Sociology<br />

department to design an HIV<br />

prevention curriculum as her<br />

senior project. This is just a<br />

part of her story and the<br />

beginning of the almost 20<br />

years that she has<br />

professionally advocated for<br />

reproductive and sexual<br />

freedom.<br />

Through CHOICES’ new<br />

building, located at 1203 Poplar<br />

Avenue, we can see their vision<br />

of a “world where sexual and<br />

reproductive healthcare is<br />

recognized as an essential<br />

human right” further come to<br />

light through their growth.<br />

Through this new space and<br />

Pepper’s leadership we can see<br />

CHOICES’ values--diversity is<br />

imperative, dare to innovate,<br />

lead by example, respect<br />

individual choices, leverage<br />

collective genius, think big, be<br />

kind, do good—further expand<br />

their impact. Pepper sees many<br />

of her personal values reflected<br />

in those of CHOICES and the<br />

work that she does as a<br />

bisexual woman that leads the<br />

first healthcare clinic of its kind<br />

in the region. Pepper leads a<br />

life that values diverse minds as<br />

“diverse teams are stronger,<br />

and this has been proven by<br />

the research. Especially with<br />

CHOICES trying to change the<br />

world” Pepper realizes that “all<br />

the voices have to be at the<br />

table” and she believes that “it<br />

is a privilege to lead an<br />

organization that shares these<br />

values so closely.”<br />

It is easy to see the level of<br />

dedication that Pepper has to<br />

CHOICES, as she has held<br />

various positions within the<br />

nonprofit and has returned to<br />

continue her work after taking<br />

breaks—one of which was to<br />

pursue her Master of Business.<br />

Over the years, Pepper has<br />

been drawn back to CHOICES<br />

because of the innovative<br />

nature of the community.<br />

“CHOICES sees a need in<br />

patients and is not afraid to fill<br />

that gap in service. CHOICES<br />

has really occupied that spot at<br />

the front of the pack in justice<br />

and access in healthcare,” and<br />

Pepper wants to live her life in<br />

the lead—fitting for her<br />

leadership qualities and style.<br />

This is clear through her<br />

dedication to continuous<br />

improvement in the<br />

organization. For example, a<br />

few years ago CHOICES<br />

implemented a living wage of a<br />

$15 an hour minimum and<br />

Pepper realizes that as more<br />

nonprofits catch up “there is<br />

another step forward we need<br />

to take in driving the needle<br />

forward” in providing living<br />

wages. CHOICES’ innovative<br />

nature and daring advocacy is<br />

one of the reasons Pepper<br />

loves the organization.<br />

“Bodily autonomy is really<br />

important and one of the most<br />

sacred human rights that we<br />

are all granted. Whether it’s<br />

your choice to not be pregnant,<br />

to be pregnant, choice to affirm<br />

your gender, choice to have<br />

safe sex, ability to treat STIs,<br />

ability to prevent pregnancies,<br />

these are all choices that<br />

people get to make for<br />

themselves, and there is no<br />

other way to do that than to be<br />

patient centered.” This patient<br />

centered approach is easy to<br />

see as CHOICES continues to<br />

grow and mobilize their<br />

services to prioritize patient<br />

care for those in Memphis and<br />

beyond.<br />

CHOICES: Memphis Center<br />

for Reproductive Health<br />

1203 Poplar Avenue<br />

Memphis, TN 38104<br />

memphischoices.org<br />

901.274.3550<br />

Page 52 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


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SNEAK PEAK<br />

Curated by Ray Rico (he/him) and Chellie Bowman (she/her)<br />

READING IS FUNDAMENTAL<br />

And this issue’s picks highlight some true gems.<br />

The Hill We Climb<br />

by Amanda Gorman<br />

A poem of<br />

acknowledgment of the<br />

past and hope for the<br />

future. As recited by<br />

Amanda Gorman at the<br />

Inauguration in January<br />

<strong>2021</strong>.<br />

Love and Other Poems<br />

by Alex Dimitrov<br />

The latest and third poetry<br />

collection by queer pop star<br />

poet Alex Dimitrov. A long<br />

love poem to New York City.<br />

I loved seeing references to<br />

gay bars I frequented when<br />

living there! A welcome<br />

engagement with the kind of<br />

bustling life we are longing<br />

for after a year in isolation.<br />

It’s the kind of poetry in which<br />

we can feel lost together, yet<br />

it’s unabashedly hopeful.<br />

The Queer<br />

Advantage:<br />

Conversations with<br />

LGBTQ+ leaders on<br />

the power of identity<br />

by Andrew Gelwicks<br />

This book is a<br />

must-read for every<br />

LGBTQ+ person<br />

or our allies. Great<br />

interviews from<br />

people like Dan Levy<br />

and Margaret Cho<br />

and some others that<br />

are special treats!<br />

The book reads<br />

interview style and you feel like you’re<br />

really engaged with each person.<br />

Black Boy Out of Time by Hari Ziyad<br />

An enlightening, restless, and beautifully told story about<br />

growing up Black and queer in America, reuniting with the past,<br />

and coming of age their own way as told by one of the most<br />

thought-provoking writers. A journey that explores childhood,<br />

gender, race, trust.<br />

Page 54 / focusmidsouth.com / MAY+JUN / BE CREATIVE!


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