I’m Black & I’m Proud

I’m Black and I’m Proud  /īm blak and īm proud/  phrase. – a phrase from James Brown’s 1968 song “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.” The song addresses the prejudice towards blacks in America, and the need for black empowerment.

Interview with Jon

Tell me about yourself. What’s your background?

My name is John Marzette. I am a musician, a DJ, an artist, a graphic artist of all sorts. I’m from Detroit, Michigan, originally. Moved to Lawrence, Kansas. Grew up in the Midwest. Where I’m headed…man, no idea, but it’ll be more of the same. I’ll definitely be bringing the Midwest with me wherever I go next and whatever I continue to do. I help a lot of people within the arts. I help a lot of people with their branding, with music, with events, and everything in between.

How would you describe/define beauty?

Beauty to me is anything that you find inspiring and that might be visually, that might be mentally, that might be spiritually…but anything that you find deeply inspiring is beautiful. Anything that you have a connection to, or anything that you’re curious about deeply and it interests you and inspires you and makes you feel…that’s beauty.

“The beautiful thing about Black beauty is it’s rooted in so many things that come natural.”

How would you describe/define Black beauty? Black style?

The beautiful thing about Black beauty is it’s rooted in so many things that come natural. Whether that’s the natural kinks and curls of our hair or the proportions of our bodies, our faces, or anything at all…those things that we’ve gone through,like the history that we’ve gone through, whether it’s been hated or loved…we’ve come to such a point where those things that may have had a bad past, or we’ve been curious about it, or we’ve found ourselves in a place where we’re like, Oh man, I’m not sure how to love myself. I love my hair. I love my skin or this or that. We’re coming to a place where we’re learning to love that even more. So Black beauty is rooted in history and it’s come a long way and it’s inspired a lot of other people and other cultures as well.

How would you define or describe Black culture?

First of all, culture is a scary word. But, ultimately Black culture at its heart is things that are inherently shared…either through history or through family traditions or just through a lot of shared experiences. And a lot of people, a lot of Black people, like it or not have certain things that are in common that that we just find wherever you might be… in Colorado, Africa, California, or anywhere in the world…you might find yourself saying like, Man, I know someone of my same ilk would understand what I’m going through right now or I have this experience or There’s something I have to go through. And I think sharing those things, expressing those things…that’s what makes up Black culture.

For example, if someone says like, Man, I need some lotion right now. Like that’s a real, real thing. Like, my knees are struggling, my ankles are not doing so great…I need some lotion, I need some Shea butter right now. That’s a specific thing. Or, If you need a specific pick, if you need something specific for what you need…trying to express and talk about specific needs and shared experiences, ultimately that’s a human connection. Shared experiences. So when I think Black culture, I think…shared experiences, at the end of the day.

“Black culture at its heart is things that are inherently shared…either through history or through family traditions or just through a lot of shared experiences… trying to express and talk about specific needs and shared experiences, ultimately that’s a human connection.”

What societal pressures do you feel because of your race?

Well, the thing about pressures is…the way that Black culture has been exploited and used to our gain and, unfortunately, to other people’s gain…Exploitation is always wanting to take the good without the bad. So, there’s a lot of pressure of unfortunate stereotypes and of things that are expected of you. Everyone assumes you might be good at a sport or you know certain things or that you know everything about hip hop or Black history or everything else. Or, everyone looks to you to answer any questions in school about Black history or slavery or any of those awkward things…Those are the pressures that you might have to deal with when you’re growing up Black in America. And that doesn’t even start to scratch the surface of all the terrible things that are the pressures of being Black in America and what that means, being Black around here. Certain things, the negative things…whether that’d be racist people or police or things that people might expect of you in a negative light…there’s a whole lot of positive and negative pressures that come along with that, that don’t fit, like every other stereotype, you can’t fit everyone into a box. It just doesn’t work like that.

Have you ever experienced of racism or discrimination? If so, any stories you would be willing to share?

Uh, sure, absolutely. I can give you plenty of examples, unfortunately. I can just run through a couple for ya. So I used to be in a band and that band used to tour. And, you know, we’re in a big van and we’re carrying around a trailer with all of our instruments in it. Sometimes we would get pulled over and the cop would come into the car and look at everyone else in the car, who happen to be White, and then they would look at me and they would only ask me to get out of the car. They would only ask me questions. They would only ask me if I had weapons or if I had something else terrible going on.

Or there would be times, say in a bar, where people do the typical things. Where they go, Can I touch your hair? They just ask very ignorant questions. Are you good at basketball? Can you rap? Are you an athlete? Things of that nature. Again, not all bad, but not all good. But, that’s just the nature of the beast. I’ve been followed around in department stores. I’ve been asked if everything in my cart was mine at the end of shopping at like, CVS, Target, Walmart, you name it. And then…you know, just the very direct. I’ve just been threatened to my face — I used to be a door guy at a bar — and I’ve been threatened at a bar from someone who’s been racist. They’ve wanted to fight, they’ve said terrible things, they’ve called me names. And I’ve also been denied service at certain bars where everyone was served and I’m waiting at the bar asking for assistance and I’m just being ignored. You name it.

What do you feel you have accomplished in your life? What are you proud of?

As a driven human being, I feel as though there have been strides and marks that me and my friends have accomplished, in terms of the music industry of the Midwest — specifically Lawrence, Kansas — where we’ve done things that prior groups or prior people in Lawrence haven’t made. That comes with starting the Flyover Festival with people who book bigger artists, that comes with being some of the biggest and most consistent artists that have played at The Granada, same at The Bottleneck… You know, just opening up for bigger touring artists here in Kansas City. And also, being a part of big moments here in Kansas City, like being a part of the mayor getting elected…DJ-ing that. DJ-ing people’s special days, their weddings–going from the big to the small. I’m just very proud to be a part of things that move…not only the culture forward….but cities forward as well. I’ve been very proud and lucky to be a part of that with a lot of people who have supported me and people I want to support as well.

Whether it’s TV, Movies, Books, People… What has shaped your life and your perspective about the world?

Man, there’s so many these days. Charlamagne Tha God’s “Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me”… that’s a great one because mental health is such a thing that we need to push forward and tell people, especially Black males, that it’s okay to try to figure this whole thing out. We have spent a long time in the culture just kinda trying to pray the pain away — do this and do that — but we really need to go to therapy. We really need to figure this whole thing out and do better. In terms of a show that kind of puts this whole thing together artfully… there’s so many. I think “Black-ish” does a really good job of showing these kinds of issues within a family dynamic. I also think “Atlanta” shows this whole thing, uh, from a specific dynamic of trying to show it in an artful way as well.

“I’m just very proud to be a part of things that move…not only the culture forward….but cities forward as well.”

What got you into music and DJ-ing? Where’d you find that passion and love?

I think that sort of passion came from… just…the only thing that people ever want to feel is connected and like they’re a part of something. Being Black in the Midwest, and specifically where there aren’t a lot of other Black people or people who share your culture, there’s a lot of confusion and there’s a lot of, Who am I? Especially when you’re young and you’re a teenager, you’re trying to figure it out. And I think I’ve always been an artist. I’ve always been drawing and doing stuff like that, but whenever I found music specifically…I started in like emo, and Nelly, and 2pac, but also like Yellowcard, and all that other stuff…there’s a whole lot of music in that realm. And I just thought, Man, if they feel like that, I’ve got to share what I’m going through. So that’s how I picked music up, because I felt such a connection to it. And plus, guitar has always been cool to me — music and instruments and everything. So it just started with typical stuff. The typical way most people find the things that define them, their group, their core, when you’re just young and you want to feel connected.

How does the sound differ from Detroit to Kansas City? And did you ever feel those sounds competing with your music identity?

Oh, I mean, the two were kind of at war when I was younger. But the older I get, the more that the two kind of meld together in this beautiful way. I was born and raised off of Motown. I’ve been listening to Prince and Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, Jackson Five, and The Temptations, and Earth, Wind, and Fire since I was born. And since moving here and finding emo Midwestern music and Spoon and Hot Water Music, and Get Up Kids, and all this other stuff…that was life changing as well. And now the two are kind of having this weird mish-mash of just very, very in depth lyrics but also very techy tunes and a, like, throwback kind of vibe. It’s all kind of melding together in this weird way, but the two go together very well, nowadays especially. It just works. Here’s the thing…Who doesn’t love Motown classics? And who doesn’t love relatable lyrics? That’s Detroit and that’s Midwest in a nutshell. The Midwest has a bunch of things you can relate to and Detroit, Motown, have all the classics…all the sounds that started so many generations of music.

What are your personal dreams?

I would like to help as many people as possible in the ways that I can help best. I’d love to give a TedTalk on the ways that I can inspire people to try and do the same thing. So that feel I’ve come across a lot of people, whether that be in bars or specific jobs where they think they don’t have any sort of talent or that they feel like they don’t have a place or they can’t do the same things just because they’re not a DJ, or a musician, or some other thing. But so many people have their place and they have their specific talents. I feel like they just need that one little push.

But, I would love to make a studio for Kansas City. I would love to help put Kansas City even more on the map. Give it more things that this show, people that can sit in the Midwest is not a fly over place. That the only places in the United States aren’t LA, New York, Chicago and Texas. There’s so much more than Disney world and Disneyland, there’s so much more. So it’s really just show up and show out. You have so many great things that come from middle America. So many great things have come and and inspired from Detroit and Lawrence and Austin and, like, fucking Iowa…like do people think there aren’t people in Iowa or something? It’s crazy. But I guess it’s really just to show up and show out and to show people, you know. Like wouldn’t it be crazy if one day on SNL, someone’s wearing a Kansas City shirt or something like that? Just to show representation. That’s what it’s always about.

What is one major problem minorities face that you would like to bring awareness to?

Again, representation. Period. I’m not talking about representation so much in entertainment anymore…. I feel like that is heading in the right direction. I’m talking about representation in the middle space — in the office, in the workplace, in neighborhoods and in groups. We need representation and really and really need to listen to the people outside of your inner circle.

“Like, Nazis should not have been a thing in 2019. We should not have had that. We have to do some better work on removing specific hate and shaming of communities and the danger that people face day to day.”

What are you dreams for society?

I guess in what way? Because I mean, I don’t want to cop out and just say “world peace” but man, we need to fix certain things. I mean I guess the general stuff would just be to remove the hate. Like, Nazis should not have been a thing in 2019. We should not have had that. We have to do some better work on removing specific hate and shaming of communities and the danger that people face day to day. Figure out the whole gun thing, figure out schools, figure out hate on the internet. Those need to be figured out ASAP.

How do we make progress on your dreams for society?

Awareness is key. The beautiful thing about awareness is that you can bring awareness to people in the most subtle way. For example, I have a merch store. I make shirts and things like that… Some goofy ones, but I also have serious ones about change and gun control. That’s one small way that I’m trying to do my part. I’ve designed it in a way where you might wear it then it doesn’t look hokey or preachy.

Awareness is often at the crossroads with action. At what point do you think we can stop becoming aware of the problem and start acting on solving the problem?

I think you’ve learned enough when you find a way to incorporate the things that you’re kind of good at or that you’re kind of interested in and combine it with the things that you’ve learned in your awareness. So for example, I learned enough about the things that I want to fix in the world that I could combine it with the things that I already love to do, which is design and make stuff. If someone loves to knit, or something like that, they could knit, they can knit as many Baby Yoda sweaters as they want, but they can also do something about…I don’t know…Flint, Michigan or even Baby Yoda wearing a Flint Michigan shirt and that that is action. Action is both as big and small as you want it to be. It just depends on the amount of people. Even if you have no specific artistic talent and you just love dogs, maybe you just fucking rate dogs on the internet, and one of them happened to be wearing a LGBTQ shirt or maybe it was a sweater made by someone who is doing something that you care about it. It can come in so many ways, but awareness and action comes together…whenever you can combine them seamlessly, big or small. That’s how it happens.

What advice would you give to other black people?

There’s not one total message I can send, but I will say do whatever you can to employ, assist, or help other Black owned businesses. The game is representation and the game is helping everybody move forward. If we help each other more, there’s no possible bad thing that could happen.

What advice would you give to not black to help them understand the black experiences?

Man, just hang out. You’ll get it. I mean, it’s as simple as that. If you’re just outside. If you’re just hanging out. If you’re going to a bar that you may be you wouldn’t normally go to. If you’re going to a club you maybe normally wouldn’t go to, but you’ve always been curious about it. Just really think about how you can do your part and have the conversation with people different from you. At the bare minimum, ask what you can do better.

Music is one of those things….It’s like one of the few barrier breakers that brings people together. Is there any way that we can take that music influence and spread it out to common situations?

I mean I think that’s happening more and more, especially with social media. I mean TikTok is huge and it’s all just goofy rap songs and White kids and Black and Indian and Asian….It’s all everything. And it’s all just because people want to do the things and people want to be seen, people want attention, and people want a community. It’s all the same stuff. So, that is going to continue to happen more and more and more. The more opportunities, the more platforms, and the more ways we have to share our experiences, the more that’s going to happen.

Staying on the music metaphor… How do you get somebody that traditionally doesn’t want to dance, to start dancing? How do we get people to learn about things they weren’t initially interested in?

I think there are a lot of tactics and I think that there are a lot of ways and I don’t think that there’s just one way. I think it’s just being and just seeing it out in the wild. Honestly, not so much bringing it to someone’s doorstep, but bringing it with you wherever you go, in a small dose. Because I find that people learn the best and people see and absorb the best when they weren’t even expecting it, when they weren’t being forced into something. When something just happens to land in their lap and then they have to digest it later on. And that might be in some sort of some sort of conversation, some sort of a get-together, might be out at a bar, might be out at a coffee shop, might be any sort of way. Experience is the best teacher of all time. As long as people get that experience naturally, I think that’s the best way.

Additional Information

Interview Date: December 29, 2019

Day 19 — Story posted on February 18, 2020

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