S.J.

SJ
SJ
This is S.J. Hazim, he’s a community leader, activist and connector. This is part one of his story.
-Part of the Kansas Young at Heart series.
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(1/2)

“I consider myself a creativity expert. I teach creativity. I believe that in this day and age we don’t tap in to our creativity, or utilize the way that it should be. If we did, we wouldn’t hit a brick wall. Some people play it safe all the time and then wonder why they don’t have the other opportunities that other people have had.

I believe introverts can change the world, but they have to speak from their passion for it to happen. I used to be an introverted person and I had all of these ideas in my head and I would hear people talking and sometimes I had the answer to their questions, but I was too introverted to go share my opinion. Or I thought that people wouldn’t even care about what I had to say.

I believe that there are a lot of people out there that have a lot of the answers we need, but they’re locked up in their introverted selves. We’re waiting on them. Some of those people don’t come to the events and don’t speak out, but some of them are the brightest people in the world. One thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter how good you are, or how nice you are, how giving you are, there are always people who are going to criticize you. You’re never going to satisfy everybody. Just get out there and be involved.

Step out from behind the curtain and be recognized. It’s not about people knowing what you’ve done, but it’s about unleashing your gift. A gift can make room for you. There are no regrets like something you didn’t say or like something you didn’t do. Say it now, do it now. I probably spent too much time in my life not stepping out. I’ve been a helper for a long time behind the scenes for other activities and different community leaders, where I kind of pushed their ideas. So I think this is something I probably should have been doing a long time ago. But at the end of the day, no one can tell your story, but you. I believe everybody has gifts and it’s up to us to use them. I heard somebody say that ‘There is no other place fuller of regrets and wasted ideas than a graveyard.’

A lot of people die with these ideas that were put inside of them to be manifest, but they took those ideas and those gifts to the grave with them. People die with the music still in them. I don’t want to die with the music still in me.”

 

Brail

Brail looking at camera pensive

Brail looking at camera pensive

This is Brail Watson. He’s a recording artist, as well as the Worship Resident at Fellowship Bible Church – Hi-Crest. You most definitely should check out his EP, the Demo at https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-demo-ep/1453031808.

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(1/3)

“Right now what I’m focused on is cultural and racial reconciliation. Everything I do feeds into that. Everything about me is more about message than music. I was raised in East Topeka and when Topeka was viscerally segregated, that part of town used to be called Mud Town. My grandfather was on the NIA that actually got my entire neighborhood built. The white contractors didn’t want to build on that side of town. Everything moved; everything kind of went west. The black people were pushed east and all the expansion went west. When I was about two months old, my mom moved in there, so I grew up in that same house.

I went to Highland Park North. At one point the school closed down so I went to Scott. Back then it was a computer technology magnet school. I went there and I was in the gifted program, but around fifth or sixth grade they told me that there was a better gifted program at French Middle School, which is far west side. There was a loophole in the system and because of that I was able to get free busing. Then in the eighth grade I was just in the orchestra, but I did really well in some of my other classes, so they would let me leave class to go help out in the choir. So, I would assist in the choir, even though I wasn’t in the class. And one my best friends in the orchestra was sick and they were supposed to do choir auditions for Topeka West, so I offered to audition with him to help him out. They ended up wanting us both to go that school.

And this all ties up to the story of how I became a racist.

So there were experiences that I had that were really defining for me when bitterness set into my heart. I had this open attitude of loving everybody, giving everybody the benefit of the doubt, but I experienced things that changed that. One time I made it into ‘Singers’ as a sophomore, which is kind of the elite group at Topeka West, and we’re sitting there talking about a concert where all of the elite groups of the high schools come together to raise money and they do a concert at Washburn. So these kids were talking about Highland Park in a very negative light. I lived in the Highland Park district. So I was like, ‘What’s wrong with them? I know some really good singers out there.’ And they’re like, ‘It’s not really about the singing. You know, it’s those kids.’ And I didn’t really understand what they were trying to say. So then I asked, ‘Is it because most of them are black?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, but you’re black and you’re not like them. You’re not like those black guys.’ So I started getting upset and defending my friends and they were like, ‘Come on. Let’s not make it a race thing. You know, they get pregnant and smoke weed,’ which is an interesting thing to say because a lot of that was happening at Topeka West. All the stereotypes were coming out and I was blown away by that.

So all of these things start coming out and then I get to Washburn and apparently it was the year of the black jokes. So everywhere I go it’s ‘fried chicken this; grape drink that; watermelon this and the n-word this.’ And these are all of my white friends making these jokes and because I’m so loving, they thought it was cool to say that around me. At the same time I’m an artist and I’m doing a lot of shows in these small Kansas towns and I’m hearing, ‘Hey man, do that new Soulja Boy dance’ and so everywhere I go, I’m a minstrel show. So I started reflecting on the world and I came to the realization that white people think they own everything. I started seeing white privilege in action without understanding at the time what it was. And then if I spoke out against it I was the angry one even though I was the one being offended.

So then I started thinking back about these bullies in middle school, who were white, and they threw me in a trash can once and I said, ‘You niggers go in the trash!’ and no one ever did anything about it, there was no outrage about it. It was treated as that’s what bullies and mean kids do. Then I got to high school and there was still some of that. One time in high school all the seniors on Facebook got together and changed the Spirit Week and they made a ‘Gangster Day.’ So what ‘Gangster Day’ meant is that you came to school dressed in gym shorts, Jordan’s, tall tees and you’d have a fake grill, so hip hop culture, black culture. That was ‘Gangster Day,’ dress like a black guy.”

Marty (3)

Marty profile view

Marty profile view

 

(3/3)

“How can we best put into practice the idea of being active in our communities, not just being vocal on social media?”

“I think the easiest thing people can do is ask each other how they’re doing. Whether that’s your coworker or close friend or family members, one way to put that in to practice is toask how we’re doing and be okay with whatever people say for an answer. We have an obligation to one another, to acknowledge each other and acknowledge each other’s humanity and to be kinder to one another and to give room for one another to grow. I don’t think we have enough space or time in this world to just cancel each other out. That’s not to excuse behaviors. There are a lot of gaps in our society and a judicial system that doesn’t hold people accountable the way that they need to be held and I think it’s good that we’re having those conversations.

I think it’s good that people are given platforms to be able to speak freely about what they’ve experienced. I know for me that’s very important. But I also know that before the Internet was poppin’, I had plenty of people in my life as a young man that were willing to correct me but not throw me away. And if I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today.

So everyday I’m trying my hardest to be that person to other people, just short of tolerating their hatred, bigotry or racism. I’m trying my best to extend as most grace as possible, knowing that there are a lot of people who gave it to me when I needed it the most and didn’t deserve it. That’s my biggest advice. Just start there and then follow your heart, wherever it takes you, in terms of filling other needs in your community. Figure out what you have a passion for and do it.”

 

Marty (2)

Close up of Marty

Close up of Marty

(2/3)

“Last summer there were a lot of people in the community that were trying to have these conversations with local authorities and elected officials and they quickly derailed. I was always disappointed with myself that I at least wasn’t there to bear witness to what was going on. I think, if nothing else, it’s really important to be there. It’s important that people take advantage of opportunities to have these difficult community conversations and to make themselves present because these are issues that affect us all. Even if they affect us differently, they certainly affect all of us.

In particular with Dominique (White), I happen to know some relatives of his and my heart just broke for his family. And when he was murdered on September 28th until when there was a subsequent protest on TPD in November, I think I was just sitting back and waiting for something to happen, waiting for something to be done, so when I found out that there would be a protest at the police department, I remember having a lot of difficult emotions that morning. I remember holding my daughter before I took her into daycare and just crying and thinking like of how scared I was, of how afraid I felt to speak up in that moment, but I also knew that I was alive, in full capacity and that I had the privilege of making a choice, that I could choose to engage in that moment and be a part of what was happening, or I could not. I chose to engage and it wasn’t nearly as much as a sacrifice at that point, thinking about what happened to Dominique.”

“Have you had any personal encounters with police officers?”

“Too many to count. I think a lot of people are aware about the first time I was stopped by the police when I moved here. I was 10-years-old, in front of my neighborhood grocery store. But I think that a lot of people don’t understand is that I’ve spent the next 15 years pretty regularly harassed by the Topeka Police Department.

Just one example: I offered to give a ride home to two high school friends of mine. A young man and a young lady. The young lady was 15. Around first or second at Fillmore there used to be a newspaper dispenser for the Capital Journal, so I saw it and happened to hop out, grab a paper and keep going. I think someone in the neighborhood alerted the police officer who was canvassing the neighborhood of what they had seen, so that officer and others began to follow me. I pulled over at Ward Meade Park and asked them why they pulled me over and they said that there had been a lot of prostitution in the neighborhood. Mind you, this was on a Tuesday at 4 in the afternoon, because I had just picked up my`friends from Topeka High. What an insult to all of us, but especially to this young lady. Clearly these were school children. They both had their backpacks.

So, we go around and around and I told them that I wasn’t going to give them consent to search my vehicle. That was a big tactic back then with TPD. It was to wear you down until you gave consent to search your vehicle and so they were probably expecting to find a bag of quarters from the newspaper dispenser or something. They kept saying, “Well, if you’ve done nothing wrong, then why wouldn’t you give consent?” And I told them, “I don’t have to. I don’t owe you that. I haven’t done anything wrong.” And so, that’s just an example. And that’s the sad part. The frustrating part is that when I’ve tried to explain this to friends and family over the years, they would say, “Well, what did you do? Why were you anxious?” And that’s what for me shows the disparity of experiences between what certain people experience when they’re engaged by police officers and what others like me experience.

Just because you’ve never had a reason to feel anxious around law enforcement, it doesn’t mean that I haven’t.”