Bri Ray: ‘Woman’

Utah musicians Bri Ray’s battle to return to the stage after she was violated

Story by JONATHAN WISTRCILL

“I was ready for the hold that it had put me in to be gone,” Bri Ray said in a Zoom interview.

Bri is a singer and entrepreneur who was born and raised in Salt Lake City. She fell in love with music at a very young age and began writing her own songs at just 8 years old, easily picking up on instruments such as the piano and violin.

Growing up Bri was shy but felt more comfortable expressing herself through music. She even wrote her first album in the fifth grade. This album though did more than just help Bri, it helped kids in Cambodia as well.

Bri Ray performed for the Excellence in the Community concert series on Feb. 13, 2021. Photo courtesy of Excellence in the Community.

When Bri was in fourth grade her father, Mike Ray, got a new job in Singapore so the whole family moved to the other side of the world. While over there Bri took a trip with her mom to Cambodia where she was touched by the other kids’ generosity. It was Bri’s birthday coming up and she decided she wanted to use the birthday money she was going to receive to help send three kids from Cambodia to school.

“It was such a cool experience and to get notes from the kids about how they were doing in school was an amazing feeling,” Bri said. When their tuition came due again a year later Bri decided to use the money she got from her first album to continue to support them.

When Ray’s parents realized that she was going to seriously pursue a career in music they had two very different reactions. Her father was excited, but her mother, Lynette Ray, was not. Lynette was worried that it would be a tough business to stay true to oneself in and that Bri would be negatively affected by it.

A few key events changed Lynette’s mind. “Seeing that look in her eye when she performed and watching her build other people up using her music made me realize it was what she was meant to do,” Lynette said in a Zoom interview.

While neither of Bri’s parents had a deep love of music her grandmother did. “She is a strong believer in music and had aspirations to be a singer when she was young,” Mike said about his mom’s passion for music over a Zoom interview.

Bri’s music career continued to rise especially after she appeared on the 15th season of “American Idol” in 2016. She was also invited out to Miami for a series of workshops that allowed her to learn from different professionals in the music industry. All this experience allowed Bri to begin touring and performing at different concerts and venues across the country. She also decided college was not for her and that she wanted to focus on her music and other business ventures.

For Bri music was a safe place where she felt more comfortable performing in front of thousands of people rather than talking to someone one on one. That comfort she felt in music was about to disappear.

While she was on tour in 2019 Bri was sexually assaulted.

“When I shared that space with the person that hurt me then it no longer felt safe,” Bri said. “It honestly took me out of the music world for a year and a half.”

Around the same time of this event the #MeToo movement had begun picking up steam with thousands of women speaking out against domestic abuse. One of Bri’s family members was one of these women who told their story. Bri was proud of her for speaking up, but another older member of their family opposed her actions, saying that she would only hurt her chances of getting a job by speaking out. Bri said she’s always believed in speaking out against what was wrong and strongly disagreed with her family member.

Earlier, when Bri was in middle school, she spearheaded a campaign to end bullying and promote acceptance. She wanted to reach her classmates by using stories of her own experiences with bullying and songs she had written to do so.

Bri said she believes “there are people who need those voices that are willing to speak on their behalf and to fight that battle with them.” She believes that every person copes differently and if she can be an advocate for those voices that is exactly what she is going to do.

The decision to be that voice, however, was a difficult one for Bri to reach. Only when she hit rock bottom was she able to bounce back.

“One day I just broke down crying and for the first time in over a year I went over to the piano,” Bri said, finally ready to release the hold the assault had on her.

During the next few hours she sat alone at the piano and wrote a new song called “Woman.”

“It was the first time I had written out and expressed my feelings about the situation and that I was ready for a turning point,” an emotional Bri said. “It really became a source of power and strength for me to pull myself out of this dark place I was in.”

Bri wants to continue to use her platform for change and in 2020 she did so by advocating for social change. She has also started a company called Social Antidote that creates opportunities for people in Salt Lake City to support local musicians and artists.

Bri Ray’s latest song “Tough Love” was released in 2021. Photo courtesy of Excellence in the Community.

Watching her go through such a painful ordeal was extremely difficult for Bri’s parents but they knew she would continue to be strong and fight. “I was proud of her for not letting that stop her. She had a pause, but she got back up,” Lynette said.

The Rays said they believe their daughter is destined for greatness and Mike knows it will come sooner rather than later. “She is going to be a great musician because she works so hard and is a very strong person,” he said.

As for how Bri’s career was in 2020, she was booked out this past year more than any other year prior doing virtual concert after virtual concert. Bri said she’s excited for what is to come and has already released a new song this year tilted “Tough Love.”

While Bri said she is optimistic for her music career, she believes that her impact off the stage will be even bigger by using her voice and platform to advocate for changes in society.

She thinks the most important thing a musician can do is a lyric from her empowering song “Woman”: “Invest in your voice and know your choice.”

Breaking down a “foundation of racism” through film

Story by ZOE GOTTLIEB

In Oconee, Georgia, an old family farm is suspended in time. A ground mist blankets the fertile land. There is a graveyard here — a place where the commands of Confederate ghost soldiers are said to be volleyed across the green plain, beyond broken fence posts and aging headstones.

In Loki Mulholland’s approximations, a woman was supposed to be buried here. Her name was Aunt Mary, a name with placeholder-like quality: on the plantation, she was simply “Aunty,” on a deed, she was just a blotch of ink.

Aunt Mary, according to his family’s oral history, was one of a hundred slaves who once walked the plantation grounds.

But the number wasn’t close to 100. In fact, it was only six, and after the Civil War ended, five of them departed the plantation for good. All left, all but Aunt Mary.

Mulholland, gripped by his trepidation, returned to the grounds once owned by his fourth grandfather, Dudley Jones Chandler, hoping to find a trace of Aunt Mary.

“I knew in my heart that we weren’t going to find her,” Mulholland said in a phone interview. Scouring his family’s burial site, he turned up nothing. Her memory in death, much like her autonomy in life, had been cast into the void — that is, until Mulholland made it his mission to revive it.

“The Uncomfortable Truth,” a documentary film directed by Mulholland, remains relevant since its production in 2017 and is especially poignant now, given the widespread protests over the death of George Floyd which shaped our national discourse in Summer 2020. In his film, which has since received numerous accolades, Mulholland takes ownership of his distant relatives’ checkered pasts, reconciles them with that of his civil rights-activist mother, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, and seeks to root out a “foundation of racism” through cinematic storytelling.

“The Uncomfortable Truth” was released four years after Mulholland’s debut film, titled “An Ordinary Hero: The True Story of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland,” which highlights the accomplishments of his mother, a white woman who wielded her privilege to champion the rights of Black Americans.

Perhaps the biggest kicker of all, Mulholland said, was that after the film’s screening at the University of Mississippi, “college kids came up to us and said, ‘We haven’t learned any of this.’”

Sensing a gap in desperate need of filling, Mulholland went on to create the Joan Trumpauer Foundation, an organization dedicated to teaching students about the blemishes of our past, as well as triumphs through civil rights-activism.

“I don’t have to sit at the lunch counters ‘cause my mom already did — right? But I have to do what I can do … because doing nothing is not an option,” Mulholland said.

Now the recipient of an Emmy, Mulholland continues to educate young people through speaking tours about the Civil Rights Movement, our nation’s foundation of racism, and the importance of using privilege for good. Mulholland’s latest film projects are available to view on his website.

As more Black voices emerge in film, our “foundation of racism” appears to be breaking down. In 2021, Sundance reported that 57% of its directors were either Black, indigenous, or people of color.

The Black Association of Documentary Filmmakers West, a Los Angeles-based Black documentary film group, strives to continue this mission of increasing Black participation in the industry.

BADWest, through its film sharing and free screenings, allows people of color to distribute their work and receive feedback, with a mission of “advocat[ing] the recognition and advancement of Black documentary filmmakers.”

“The last four years have been an eye-opener to see where we are in this country,” Joyce Guy, a member and acting treasurer of BADWest, said in a phone interview.

Calling cinema the “foundation of this country going back to ‘Birth of a Nation,’” Guy said she believes that film has the potential to break down sociopolitical barriers and allow Black filmmakers to “chip away [at] untruths about who we are.”

Some of Guy’s work includes “Dancing Like Home,” a documentary she directed on the subject of tribal dance rituals in Casamance, Senegal, and appearances in many popular TV series such as “West Wing,” “Criminal Minds,” “Brooklyn 99,” “Bones,” and the critically acclaimed film “Moneyball.”

Despite her level of professional achievements, Guy said that Black actors, directors, and producers continue to face hurdles in the industry. “We’re still breaking ground to be just called a filmmaker — we haven’t passed that threshold yet.”

The organization will hold its 11th annual Day of Black Docs in May 2021. The event, held virtually this year, celebrates some of the year’s best Black documentary films.

Salt Lake City also has its share of Black production companies, including Inglewood Films founded by director and producer JD Allen.

Damarr Jones is an actor featured in several of JD Allen’s films, including “The Shoebox” and “Fear Level.” Photo Courtesy of Damarr Jones.

Damarr Jones is a friend of Allen’s and an actor affiliated with Inglewood Films. Jones, a self-described “military man,” hailing from Riverside, California, was in the midst of a search for professional gigs when he first became acquainted with Allen.

The men, having grown up in different parts of California, bonded right away, and Jones went on to participate in many of Allen’s films, including “Fear Level” and “The Shoebox.”

“Fear Level” follows the lives of six as they descend into their darkest depths, or “levels” of terror. “The Shoebox,” a film based on the real-life events of veteran Micah Reel, centers on four soldiers faced with the reality of PTSD before war.

Film has always been an important part of Jones’ life, but the death of George Floyd in 2020 changed his outlook on the industry.

“As tragic as George Floyd’s [death] was, one thing it did was open a lot of people’s eyes,” Jones said in a Zoom interview.

After Floyd’s death, Jones discovered a trend which he hopes will stick: more people, especially those of the younger generation, taking to video-sharing sites like TikTok, giving Black voices an unprecedented level of influence.

“I just hope the momentum can stay going, because when you got stuff that’s kinda trendy, it tends to fade out,” Jones said.

Jones, Guy, and Mulholland are all storytellers whose lives have been irrevocably shaped by their perception of racism in this country. They are storytellers who strive each day to use their narratives for good, to break down those racial barriers which will help America grapple with its racist past.

Back in Oconee, Georgia, Mulholland found himself wanting to retrace the paths walked by his activist mother. He might not have realized it at the time, but the act itself — an act of total, willful remembrance — encapsulates the meaning of “The Uncomfortable Truth.”

“I’m walking,” he said, “trying to figure out where this path was, and it turned out that I had been walking on it the entire time.”


Caribbean Nightingale: Utah’s first poetry salon connecting the community through the arts

Story by KENZIE WALDON

Poetry is a language that speaks to all different kinds of souls, connecting those who are in tune with the rhythm. A space to express this creative outlet can expand one’s own view to the variety of cultures that surround them in a community. 

Caribbean Nightingale is one such place. This Provo-based poetry café and boutique creates a space for artistic diversity in Utah. Michaëlle Martial, a Haitian-born poet and the creative force behind Caribbean Nightingale, is breaking barriers by spotlighting the mixture of talent that Utah has to offer. 

“Nightingale is a bird I always liked to read about as a teen, you know, from poetry,” Martial said during a Zoom interview. “Then I found out several years ago that the Nightingale was the only bird that sang both day and night.” 

The nightingale’s significance resonates deeply with Martial, both as a working mother and as a survivor of trauma and domestic violence. She decided to name her new business Caribbean Nightingale, the same moniker Martial uses for performing. “When it was time to register the business, I just thought it was a great idea to keep my stage name as the name of the business just because it has a lot of meaning,” Martial said. 

Michaëlle Marital performing her poetry as Caribbean Nightingale during a Relaxation Through Verse event. Courtesy of the Caribbean Nightingale website. Photographed by Tania Luiza Linson.

The business of Caribbean Nightingale began in 2018 with Relaxation Through Verse. This is the poetry salon’s main event that is held in various locations around Utah offering a safe space for multicultural artists to express themselves freely. “The poetry salon is there to uplift the community as a whole but also to help promote local and emerging artists,” Martial said. “We wanted to have an uplifting experience between the community and the artists.”

These intimate events have been stationed in art galleries to coffee shops and attract developing artists from all kinds of backgrounds. Gianfranco Fernandez-Ruiz, a Dominican Republic-born artist, is one of many to connect with Martial at one of the Relaxation Through Verse poetry readings. 

Gianfranco Fernandez-Ruiz performing his boom bap-inspired poetry at a Relaxation Through Verse event. Courtesy of the Caribbean Nightingale website. Photographed by Nicole Tyana Photography.

“Ever since, we’ve been homies,” Fernandez-Ruiz said in a Zoom interview. “I’m just on the other side of that island, she’s from Haiti and I’m from the Dominican Republic. So that Caribbean business, it goes a long way.”

Fernandez-Ruiz is both a poet and a multi-disciplined creative. “I mean, I graduated in English,” he said. “So, I’m all things in the arts, I do nonfiction, I do fiction. I’m a filmmaker. I’m a screenwriter, director, and I do poetry.” With the help of an ongoing Kickstarter, he is currently in the process of creating a tongue-and-cheek horror comedy movie called, “Saborrrr!”

Another performer at the Relaxation Through Verse is local musician Mel Soul. Soul attended one of Caribbean Nightingale’s events and was so touched by Martial’s poetry that she felt inspired to share her own writing and music.

“Michaëlle has kindly had myself and my drummer band mate Everett Spencer connect through her business as one of her featured musician artists for her live stream events,” Soul said in an email interview.

“Caribbean Nightingale offers poets, artists and businesswomen a safe haven for anyone (especially any person of color) to feel safe and connected through the expression of art in all forms,” Soul said.

Mel Soul (left) and Everett Spencer performing as Mel Soul & The Messenger at a Relaxation Through Verse event. Courtesy of the Caribbean Nightingale website. Photographed by Tania Luiza Linson.

Another addition to Caribbean Nightingale’s poetry salon is the TiGla Boutique, a shop and alternative outlet of highlighting the diverse talents that reside in Utah. It’s also a way to honor Martial’s mother, who was a fashion designer and seamstress. “That’s my way of amplifying Black voices, as I was trying to create some sort of legacy for my mother’s memory who passed less than a year and a half ago,” Martial said.

TiGla Boutique retails merchandise from the artists who perform at Relaxation Through Verse along with Martial’s own poetry books and other authors of African descent. Whether it be fashion, music or literature, TiGla Boutique markets the products created by these local artists, a concept Martial absorbed from her mother who was always trying to help women in her own community. 

“I thought I would do something similar to help me not only feel closer to her, but to also help other artists in my community and in the Black community, specifically,” Martial said. 

The most recent addition to Caribbean Nightingale’s business is the blog titled, “Black Joy Is…” This blog enlightens readers on Martial’s individual perceptions throughout her life. “It’s my personal insight as a woman, a Black woman, immigrant woman, and a poet,” Martial said. “And how travel and healing are intersected when it comes to self-care and self-love.”

While Caribbean Nightingale is connecting Utah’s diversity through art, being a one-of-a-kind business in this state still has its challenges. “Well, it’s been a journey,” Martial said, chuckling.

“There are a lot of obstacles that Black artists get into, you know, that is preventing them from succeeding within a business such as Caribbean Nightingale,” Martial said. “And sometimes Black artists don’t know that there’s so many opportunities available.”

But Caribbean Nightingale’s recent spark of exposure came in 2020 when Martial, along with five other Black-owned businesses in Utah, were selected to receive the Comcast RISE Prize. Caribbean Nightingale is the first of its kind to receive this award from Comcast, which generally supplies a business with the materials and technology it needs in order to succeed. 

Since Caribbean Nightingale is a business operated from home and restructured to hosting events virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions, Comcast needed to think outside of the box for how this award would be beneficial. The prize ultimately paid for a professionally produced commercial that will air from March to June on various Utah networks and be available on the Caribbean Nightingale website.

Martial is currently in the process of releasing a downloadable poetry album as well as organizing Relaxation Through Verse events through spring and summer 2021, both virtual and in person. Martial said donations collected at these events will be distributed among the performers and be given to local shelters for individuals experiencing homelessness. 

Martial’s dream of Caribbean Nightingale is almost 10 years in the making and has cracked open the artistic diversity that bubbles under Utah’s surface. Her advice to any aspirating entrepreneur who is wanting to invest in their passion is to always be mindful of the process. Or in Martial’s words, “You know, life is short, like our slogan with the coffee station, diverse life is short. Take it one sip, one rhyme and one note at a time.”

HoneyComb Café: A taste of a rising small business that’s using one of Utah’s natural ingredients

Story by KENZIE WALDON

New Year’s resolutions always open the possibility for new opportunities. That’s how Bailey Johnson and her sister BreAnna King felt at the beginning of 2020 when they made their goal of opening a bakery/coffee shop. This was the year they were finally ready to conjure this lifelong dream into a reality.

Then the pandemic struck. COVID-19’s chaotic attack on daily life led to postponement and reconfiguration of beginning the business they always envisioned.

“We felt super bummed out,” Johnson said in an email interview, “but then ultimately decided that Utah needed another Black owned business this year.” 

By October 2020, Johnson independently opened the virtual doors to the HoneyComb Café, a “Black and women owned bake shop,” serving dairy and vegan pastries with honey harvested from local hives by the team.

The HoneyComb Café’s logo, courtesy of its Instagram profile. Designed by Victor J. Herrera.

Johnson initiated this online bakery offering local delivery or pick-up from their new Cottonwood Heights-based industrial kitchen at 1164 E. Hemmingway Drive. Since its opening, the HoneyComb Café has quickly grown in popularity with the use of social media platforms, such as Instagram, and through involvement in the local community.

“We started with a pop-up shop with two other vendors to get our names out there and get our feet off the ground,” Johnson said. She credits their fast growth to “an amazing community of fellow bakers, [but] word of mouth has been what we’re striving for at the moment,” she said.

Menu favorites at the HoneyComb Café include the “danishes and beignets,” Johnson said. These multi-layered and fritter-type pastries can be custom made with dairy or vegan ingredients. 

The HoneyComb Café’s stand-out quality is that it will substitute sugar for honey from honeybee hives that they harvest and maintain. “All of our honey in our products came from our beautiful hives that we’ve [taken care of] for [the last] three years,” Johnson said. 

Unfortunately, due to severe winter exposure, three out of four hives unexpectedly died this season. But Johnson plans to rebuild more honeybee hives this spring that will have more resilience to the ever-evolving Utah climate. “Our hives were so special and cherished,” Johnson said. “We are excited to start a few more this year and work harder to make sure they’re safe for the off season.” 

The HoneyComb Café team harvesting honey from the honeybee hives. Courtesy of the HoneyComb Café website. Photograph by Joe Johnson.

The HoneyComb Café’s delectable goodies have garnered consistent loyalty from its clientele since the beginning. From highlighting chocolate pudding pie to matcha bread on the website, the HoneyComb Café offers a dessert experience that is uniquely their own. “When every customer enjoys my pastries, I hope they are so happy and realize that 3 colonies of Honeybees, which is over 240,000 working bees, are the reason we are living, breathing, and enjoying HoneyComb Cafe’s pastry,” Johnson said.

Johnson reciprocates this loyalty back into her business by consistently considering her mantra: “Always put people over profit.” She hopes to expand enough in the upcoming years to transition HoneyComb Café into a storefront where customers are welcome to stay, relax and enjoy its high-quality pastries and coffee. 

Johnson’s entrepreneurial spirit is driven by the people she loves and supports her — including her HoneyComb Café team. 

“I am dedicated to making sure this business takes off,” said Valerie Evans in an email interview, a baker at the HoneyComb Café and Johnson’s mother. “I’m dedicated to providing goods to our customers, and I’m dedicated to learning everything about vegan eating,” she said.

Evans has been helping Johnson with HoneyComb Café since it opened in October. “It was honestly a dream come true for her to ask me to not only help bake, but to also formulate the menus and try out new recipes,” Evans said. 

The HoneyComb Café’s displayed goodies during a pop-up shop in October 2020. Courtesy of the HoneyComb Café’s Instagram. Photographed by Bailey Johnson.

With this being the first time she’s worked at a locally owned business, she noted the contrast from previous jobs. “It’s so different because I feel like I’m helping achieve a dream while also building customer connections with different kinds of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise,” Evans said.

Tyce Hawkins, the marketing director and customer relations associate at HoneyComb Café, has also been with the business since Day One. 

Similar to Evans, this is Hawkins first time working at a locally owned business — seeing it as an opportunity he didn’t want to pass up. Hawkins said he enjoys feeling viable and not like a “cog in a system.”

“Every week we improve in a new way and the work that we do helps the café grow and connects us to the community in a more meaningful way,” Hawkins said. 

This support pushes Johnson’s drive to further represent the Black-owned business community in Utah, striving to benefit the Salt Lake City area for the better.

If there’s one thing that Johnson wants her customers to take away from supporting the HoneyComb Café, rather than just an experience filled with tasty treats and a new appreciation for the Beehive State’s resources, is “how amazing Black owned businesses are, and how amazing and life-changing honeybees can be.” 

Black artists bringing #Blackjoy to Utah

Story by NINA TITA

Utah Black Artists Collective is a nonprofit of professional Black artists from across Utah who are building a community of acceptance and love for their art. The Collective includes graphic designers, poets and classical ballerinas.

Jayrod Garrett, co-founder of UBLAC, said the mission is to create Black space, a place where Black people are the majority.

“Things I learned as we went about putting this together, I found out that I was not alone in that idea that I felt isolated as a child. Many of the Black people I’ve spoken to who live here in Utah felt isolated because the state’s 2% black,” Garrett said in a Zoom interview.

Working as a teacher full-time, poet and storyteller, Garrett’s passion is about sharing stories of the lived human experience. His written collection of poems titled, “Being Black in White Space,” captures the essence of what Black artists have gone through. Garrett is aware of the difficulty his audience has relating to the Black experience.

“You can go up in front of an audience and share like one of these really vulnerable poems that talks about what it feels like to be Black in that space and then afterwards you get superficial clapping because they’re like ‘we don’t really know what you just said but this what we’re supposed to do right?’” Garrett said.

Garrett founded UBLAC in July 2020 at the start of the pandemic when organizations were forced to move to virtual platforms. Black artists are using the opportunity to share their work and collaborate on social media, such as Instagram. The current project Garrett is directing is titled #BLACKJOY, a means of breaking barriers.

UBLAC artists gather in front of art that inspires them to continue to showcase their talents and bring #BLACKJOY to the community. Photo courtesy of Jayrod Garrett.

“We started talking about the idea of what Black joy sounds like and what does that look like. Is that praise community the only place you see Black people in joy? And it’s not, but like that’s the only way people seem to think about Black people having joy, is in that faith-based community,” Garrett said.

Changing stereotypes has been a challenge other Black artists are passionate about. Daney Lin, an acrylic painter, recalls being the only Black American in his class growing up in Ogden, Utah.

“Being a Black American in Utah, I feel like we are bound to a certain stigma, let’s break down those barriers, let’s knock them down. Let’s be everything, let’s be bank owners, let’s be grocery owners,” Lin said in a Zoom interview.

As a teenager, Lin found art to be his comfort while he was trying to pursue an athletic career in basketball and track and field. He struggled with his mental health and said he was diagnosed with bipolar, ADHD and depression.

“[Art] helped me relieve my stress, it helped me relieve my depression and kind of just showed it in different ways I couldn’t speak it,” Lin said.

He also struggled with the fear of getting better and losing his artistic ability, he said. Utilizing therapy and medication, Lin discovered his talents were not dependent upon his mental health, but provided him relief from stress.

After submitting his artwork on a whim to UBLAC, Garrett immediately saw all of Lin’s potential. Inspired by colors, peace and love in Japanese and Chinese cultures, Lin’s paintings capture emotion.

“I find myself feeling colors,” Lin said.

One of Lin’s paintings in currently on display at the Hogle Zoo’s World of the Wild Art Show. He cried when he saw it in the gallery. “Growing up I didn’t know any Black artists,” Lin said. Now he is honored to have his art out for all to see and be inspired by.

“I want other Black artists to not be afraid and not feel like they have to live up to a certain stigma. You don’t have to be an athlete, you don’t have to be a rapper, you don’t have to be a singer,” Lin said. “If that’s what you do, hey hats off to you, do it, please do it, strive to be better.”

Schkyra Morning, known as Wynter the Poet, co-founder and executive manager of UBLAC, echoes Lin’s sentiments, acknowledging how racial stereotypes can be detrimental to artistry.  “Being an artist can already be challenging at times because you are asking someone to essentially love who you are and what you are creating. So that can already be a lot. You’re a Black woman and an artist and it kind of makes things a little harder,” Morning said in a Zoom interview. “It makes the road a little harder for you, and that’s OK, I’m not afraid of hard work.”

Morning said that many of the UBLAC artists are fueled in their work by racial injustice that is being seen across the country. Her recent poems are about her personal experience of having police guns drawn on her.

It fuels me. The things that I go through fuel me to write about them to share my experiences with other people who are probably going through, who may not even know how to even express it,” Morning said.

UBLAC artists have started to collaborate on projects regarding racial injustice and rewriting what #BLACKJOY looks like. Lin, Garrett, Morning and other artists created their first YouTube video dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, which will be posted to their YouTube Channel soon.  

Looking forward, UBLAC is expanding its community impact with youth mentorship programs. The goal is to provide Black youth of all ages with Black role models in the artistic industry to help cultivate talent.

“It’s being able to be in Black space on a regular basis,” Garrett said.

The UBLAC community is excited for the future of the organization. There are plans for in-person galleries, more social media artist collaborations and #BLACKJOY art pieces coming.

Versatile Image: helping artists monetize

Story by ERIC JENSEN

Finding a way to monetize art can be hard. It is especially hard for those in the Black community to do so. It can feel like there is nowhere to go to get started as a business. This is why Michelda George created her company Versatile Image.

“I’m just tired with not being able to know where to go,” George said in a Zoom interview.

Versatile Image is an artist collective. It helps artists, specifically Black artists, who want to find ways to make money for their art.

George saw how talented her friends were but also saw that they were struggling financially. So, she created a service to help deal with the back-end business side of art.

A way for artists to make money.

How those two things intersect are simple in George’s mind. The world of business cannot function without the world of creatives.

George said there are many intersections between business and art. Architects, for example, are artists. They draw and design impressive structurers and need to be able to sell them.

George also said mentions the backbone of companies are created by artists. Marketing is done largely by artists.

“You know, you don’t see a logo of a company, and where do you think they get it from? You don’t get it from the mailroom, they get it from an artist,” George said.

Michelda George presenting at a Utah Valley University economics conference. Photo courtesy of Michelda George.

It’s a cooperative ecosystem, George said, an ecosystem that needs both creatives and businesspeople functioning together. Unfortunately, the two often don’t speak the same language. So, George is the middle ground.

Offering a bridge from the corporate business world to the creative dreamlands of talented artists.

Take Chassidy Jade, for example. She is an independent film producer and the creator of Crown Me Royal Labs.

According to Jade, George helps with the business side of her film company. George also helps with the marketing for upcoming films.

“Basically, what they do is assist with the branding and marketing and helping me produce anything,” Jade said in a Zoom interview. “So, all of the paper work, the licensing, making sure everyone gets paid, coming up with different ideas of how we can promote the content. She basically builds everything from scratch on the back end.”

Jade said George handles all the things she doesn’t have time to deal with.

This gives Jade more time to focus on creating projects and developing ideas.

The business is modeled after the SCORE mentoring program. Programs like SCORE aren’t as readily geared toward Black people though, George said. Versatile Image is built to cater toward those needs.

“Black and brown people don’t have that. There’s not a place where you can go where people are really invested in your business, where they’ll kind of take you along the process and teach you as you go. So that way you can be self-sufficient one day. We don’t have anything like that in the Black and brown community,” George said.

Why did the company choose Utah though? George was raised in Ft. Lauderdale and helped her family run their store, Sun Rise Market, there. Coming to Utah was a leap out of the comfort zone.

George said she came here because of the entrepreneurial spirit she and the state share.

“Utah has one of the best economies in the country. Land is cheap here. I knew I wanted a co- working space. … And for it to be my headquarters would just make sense,” George said.

George said she was overshadowed by surface level things in Florida. The market was oversaturated and made it difficult to stand apart.

Utah provided George a place where she could grow her business. She also saw the need for diversity in the market and a lack of competition as added bonuses.

“I just wanted to start afresh, and an economy that I felt would be the best to build a business,” George said.

The advantage Versatile Image has is that it is not rooted to just helping Utah artists despite being in Utah. Salt Lake City is a central western United States city and provides a geographical advantage for businesses to branch out to other western metropolitan areas. George has clients in Florida, New York, Tennessee, the United Kingdom, and more, George said in a follow up email.

George also said she loves Utah because of its natural beauty. She can be found hiking in the mountains in the spring and fall.

George also participates in spoken word poetry in Salt Lake City. Photo courtesy of Michelda George.

She said in Utah her perspective can be different. She can focus more on herself. George said she has more doors opened for her here than in Florida. She can connect more easily with events planners and businesses that need artists.

“The entrepreneur network here is like, unmatched,” George said.

She mentions that most everyone she meets in the business world is interested in connecting with her. Salt Lake City is a tight knit market, and everyone eventually gets to know each other within the business world here. She also says the socio-economic climate is much different than Florida.

In Florida people want to look like they have money, not actually possess it, George said. A true entrepreneur, she is motivated by the bottom line.

That isn’t all she is motivated by though. George believes in the idea of service towards others.

A belief that stems from her parents and their sacrifice to come from Haiti to make a new life for their daughter. A belief built on George’s Christian values. Her heart is set on helping people.

Jade, the filmmaker, said George has always been a motivated person, and always looked for ways to help people.

“That’s what makes it successful, that other people are successful in their businesses. It’s not for us. We’re not here for like the glitz and glory, like we’re really here to serve people in a way that they need for their business,” George said.

Michelda George is selfless, and that is the type of business Versatile Image has become. One built on helping people find ways to live off their dreams.

It is more than a company. It is the idea that if you work hard, help other people, and follow what makes you happy, you can succeed.

That’s what George loves the most about her company, the way it develops people and helps build business owners.

“I love developing things, whether it’s people, whether it’s businesses, whether it’s brands, whether it’s programs or workshops to help people,” George said. “I love the development part of Versatile Image and how it changes. It changes often. It’s not always the same, because every business is different.”

A monochromatic mountain

One family’s mixed feelings toward Utah’s slopes

Story by HANNAH CARLSON

A ski lift traversing a snowy slope. Photo by Simon Fitall on Unsplash.

“I grew up skiing in Utah’s Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons with my dad,” Micheal Bradshaw Jr. said in a collaborative Zoom interview with his sisters. “At the time, I didn’t realize that my dad and I were the only Black ones on the mountain. It doesn’t feel like a safe place anymore.”

In 1974, Micheal, a Millcreek, Utah, native, started skiing with his father, the late Micheal (Mike) Sr., at 3 years old. His younger twin sisters, Sierra and Kellie Bradshaw, started skiing two years later when they too turned 3 years old.

In order to hit the slopes each season, the Bradshaws were often required to make financial sacrifices to afford lift tickets and new ski gear for their growing children.

“Growing up, we never had cute ski outfits like most of the other kids did,” Sierra said. “I remember one year wearing blue camo ski pants and a pink jacket with fur. We wore whatever we could scrape up on clearance or whatever hand-me-downs the neighbors dropped off that year. It always made me sad as a little girl.”

The children’s mother, Ariel Jackson Bradshaw, didn’t share the rest of her family’s passion for skiing. Instead, she often read in the parked car while the others skied on the other side of the resort. She brought sandwiches and snacks.

“My mom loved coming with us,” Kellie said. “She’d always say, ‘I’d rather read in the mountains than on the sofa.’ She rarely missed a week.”

By their college years, the Bradshaw children were elite skiers and masters of the slopes.

In 1999, however, their father unexpectedly died from a heart attack just two months before his 66th birthday.

It was February, and Utah’s shimmering slopes were still covered with snow. “It felt right to go skiing,” Micheal said. “I guess it was both a way to cope and honor his memory.”

By this time, Ariel was too frail to wait in the car parked below the frigid slopes. Instead, she remained in her Millcreek home, reading, while her adult children skiied.

It wouldn’t be much longer until the rest of the Bradshaws would join their mother for warmer weekends indoors and skip the slopes altogether.

A skier pictured below a ski lift. Photo by David Klein on Unplash.

A year later, Micheal went skiing alone one Saturday morning. He was 26 years old.

“Everyone says to never ski alone out of fear for one’s physical safety,” Micheal said. “But I wasn’t worried about it as long as I stayed on populated runs. I didn’t realize at the time that falling off my skis wasn’t the only threat to my safety at the resort.”

After a morning of skiing, Micheal said he went to purchase lunch from the resort’s crowded lodge. He had never been to the lodge before. He had always packed sandwiches like his mother did for him and his sisters growing up.

With his lunch tray in hand, Micheal asked a bearded man seated at a table with his family if he could eat his lunch from one of the table’s three empty chairs.

Micheal recalled the interaction.

“F— no,” the man said while laughing. “Can’t you see that I’m trying to eat with my family here?”

Micheal apologized for interrupting the family’s lunch and asked if he could at least take one of the table’s extra chairs elsewhere to eat his meal.

“Are you kidding me?” the man replied to Micheal. “I just said, my family and I are trying to enjoy our meal. We don’t need a lone n—– like yourself here. F— off.”

Nobody came to Micheal’s defense, despite the room being full of snacking skiers, snowboarders, and stares of shock.

With everyone’s goggles and helmets taken off to eat, he quickly realized that he was the only Black person in the lodge of one of Utah’s most popular ski resorts.

Micheal now understood why his mom waited in the family’s car bundled in jackets and blankets rather than inside the lodge beside the fireplace.

Kellie spoke of her mom as a young mother, having had a similar experience to that of Micheal’s. She was asked to relocate to the other side of the ski lodge after making some of the resort’s regular guests “feel uncomfortable.”

“She was just reading a book,” Kellie said.

In a later attempt to purchase ski pants from a popular outdoor clothing company, Sierra also came face-to-face with the ski industry’s lacking inclusion. After trying on multiple pairs of ski pants that didn’t fit, she was eventually referred to plus-sized alternatives.

“I was 5-9 and 150 pounds at the time. I didn’t wear plus size in any other type of pant. Just in ski pants,” Sierra said. “Those ski pants were made to fit white women, not a body type like mine and my sisters who carry our weight differently.”

Kellie added, “Don’t even get us started on helmet sizing.”

After Micheal’s frightening incident in the lodge, and a few subsequent instances of microaggression later, the Bradshaws retired their skis and hung up their helmets.

“It’s not worth it anymore. The fun of skiing has become so tainted by the lack of inclusion,” Micheal said. “When my father died the bubble of ski bliss popped and we were introduced to the reality that he and my mother tried so hard to keep us from while growing up.”

While the Bradshaws’ story may air extreme, they aren’t alone in skipping out on the slopes. Many of Utah’s minority groups aren’t interested in racing to the resorts each winter either.

An infographic illustrating the racial distribution of Utah’s ski and snowboard population during the 2019-2020 winter season. Image by Hannah Carlson.

 In 2019-20, a Snowsports Industries America participation study reported that 88% of the season’s ski visits were made by people who identify as white or caucasian.

Native Americans and Blacks each represented only 1% of that population. Asian and Pacific Islanders made up 4% and those identifying as Latino made up 5%.

Skiing is also an extremely expensive sport to pursue. In Utah, the average price of a single-day lift ticket last year was $95. The cost of a resort season pass ranges anywhere from $300 to $1,500.

On top of a lift pass, a skier or snowboarder would also require a pair of skis or a snowboard, ski poles, boots, pants, a jacket, a coat, gloves, goggles, and a helmet.

For a median household income of $71,621 in Utah, skiing isn’t an easily approachable sport. Especially for larger families, where Utah ranks first in the country.

“I don’t have all the answers,” Micheal said. “I just wish that I could take my daughters skiing without them having to experience what many of us already have.”

Power puffs and Black hair care

A story of interracial adoption and Black hair care

Story by HANNAH CARLSON

Braids, beads, twists, puffs, and knots are some of 7-year-old Eme’s go-to hairstyles. “Lately, she’s been on a puffs kick though, now calling them her power puffs,” said Brooke Larsen, Eme’s adoptive mother. “It melts me every time.”

Eme was born to African American parents in Harrison County, Texas. At 3 months old, she was willfully and anonymously surrendered by her biological mother to a nearby fire station. Eme was soon thereafter transported to a local hospital, where she was found by medical experts to be a very healthy and bubbly baby, Brooke said in a Zoom interview.

In 2017, the state of Texas granted the Larsens foster care privileges over Eme. She was 3 years old at the time and was soon nicknamed by the Larsen family “Eme” to honor her birth name, Demetria.

Through the Children’s Service Society of Utah program, the Larsens had previously adopted three children at birth. They share a biological mother, and each has a different biological father. Claire, 17, and Daphne, 15, are both of white descent. Lucas, 12, is of Mexican American descent.

Brooke recalled seeing Eme in person for the first time. “She had a full head of hair, I was absolutely shocked by it. Her hair was styled into about a dozen or so little knots.”

Two days after meeting Eme, Brooke and her husband, Scott, flew home to Salt Lake City with the 3-year-old in their arms. The couple was elated to introduce her to their older children and Maltese Terrier, Tiny.

“After a few days of being home, I noticed her (Eme’s) hair getting a little less neat, and it looked like it could use a bit of TLC,” Brooke said. “After I sent the older kids off to school I took Eme’s knots out of her hair thinking I’d give her hair a wash and put them back in. It didn’t work out too great.”

After trying to recreate the hairstyle, Brooke described Eme’s newly knotted as a “frightening sight.”

“I learned quickly that I couldn’t treat Eme’s hair like my older girl’s [straight] hair. I didn’t have the correct education or supplies to do it,” Brooke said. “I felt like I had failed her already.”

According to the Andre Walker Hair Typing System, Eme’s hair type fits under type 4B due to her tightly coiled and dense “z” curls. When dry, type 4B hair can appear as much as 70% shorter due to the tightness of each curl. Textured hair like Eme’s is highly susceptible to dryness and breakage without proper care.

After watching countless YouTube videos and attempting a few different protective hairstyles, Brooke and Scott Larsen were still not pleased with their work on Eme’s hair. The next morning, Scott suggested they call Clara “C.C.” Campbell, a young African Caribbean woman and close family friend.

“The second C.C. heard of Eme coming home with us she offered to help however she could. She used to be our babysitter when Claire and Daphne were younger,” explained Scott in a Zoom interview. “But I don’t think she had hairdressing in mind when she originally offered her help.”

The Larsens were in a particular hurry to get Eme’s hair in better condition, as they were expecting family members from out of town to meet Eme for the first time. The family was also going to have family portraits taken during the reunion. Brooke said she feared that her daughter’s hair would be a “dry and tangled mess” for their first-ever family photo.

“I shuddered at the thought of her having to look back on those photos one day,” Brooke said.

“Honestly, the twists Eme had in when she first came over weren’t so bad,” said C.C. in a Zoom interview. “Although, I could see that her overall level of haircare was lacking and probably had been for a long time.”

Hair braids are a common protective hairstyle used on children. Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unplash.

Within a few days of reaching out to C.C., Brooke and Eme were able to go to C.C.’s home for a short hair lesson. The first hairstyle to tackle was, of course, the bandeau twists.

Due to a significant amount of visible damage to Eme’s hair, C.C. said she was suspicious that Eme’s previous foster parents didn’t know how to properly care for Eme’s hair either.

“Not knowing how to do something at first is nothing to be ashamed of, though,” C.C. said. “It’s hard for anyone to learn something new. Hair or otherwise.”

During the next few months, Brooke and Eme often visited C.C. to learn new hairstyles and techniques for the girl’s hair. C.C. also referred Brooke and Eme to her local hairdresser who specializes in Black women’s hair.

Brooke now follows a tailored hair care routine to tackle Eme’s tight curls. The routine comprises plenty of conditioners, detangling, and a great deal of patience from both Brooke and Eme.

Eme’s hairdresser recommends that Brooke only wash and wet condition Eme’s hair once a week in order to reduce dryness. They commonly call this “wash day” or “hair day” in the Larsen household — one that Eme doesn’t seem to adore. “She despises hair day,” Scott said. “It’s usually met with tears. She’d much rather be out playing with her siblings instead of held up in the bathroom with Brooke.”

Every wash day, Eme receives a deep conditioning treatment of jojoba oil and a 30-minute wait under a warm towel. Every morning and evening, Eme’s hair is wetted with water and leave-in conditioner before her hair is brushed free of tangles. At night, Eme sleeps with a silk hair wrap to reduce hair damage caused by friction.

“Eme used to sleep with just a silk pillowcase,” Brooke said. “She didn’t understand why she had to wear one (a wrap) when Claire and Daphne didn’t. Now she loves them and looks forward to picking new ones out.”

Brooke estimates that she spends nearly 10 hours a month styling and caring for Eme’s tight curls.

“I love caring for Eme’s hair though,” Brooke said. “I’m going to be heartbroken the day she decides she doesn’t want me to help with it anymore. It’s been a meaningful way for us to bond with one another and have a bit of girl talk.”

Brooke and Scott emphasize the importance of hair education among interracial families like theirs.

“Eme’s hair is a major part of her identity and it’s something that she is extremely proud of,” Scott said. “I can see the pride in her eyes every time she shows me her freshly styled curls. She feels beautiful, and she is beautiful.”

Other than maintaining a clean appearance, the Larsens also believe that it’s important to honor Eme’s heritage any way that they can. “Her hair is a critical part of that,” Brooke said.

Eme recently joined a children’s dance class. Before her first recital, the Larsens were given a list of rules to follow when dressing and styling their daughter for the performance. “It included specifications like costume details, what color of bow to wear, and other related things,” Scott said. “One bullet on the list specified that each girl needed to be wearing a ‘single and straight high pony tail’ under the dancer’s bow.”

However, the Larsens found that the dance organization itself outlined that each athlete wear a hairstyle to each recital that looks “natural and age-appropriate” to the dancer.

After a few emails and a face-to-face conversation after a class, the Larsens were able to convince the class’s instructor to allow their daughter to wear a more natural hairstyle. The Larsens expressed no resentment toward the instructor and were instead happy to be a part of an educational discussion.

“We always want Eme to feel comfortable in her natural hair and protective styles,” Brooke said. “We’ve yet to use a curling iron or flat iron on her hair. I don’t want her to ever believe that she needs to trade in her tight curls for looser ones or straightened hair.” The Larsens clarified that Eme has, and will always have, the freedom to style her hair and express herself however she may choose.

“Taking care of Eme’s hair is important,” Brooke said. “As a parent, I have a responsibility to care for all of my children’s hair — straight, wavy, or curly. Scott helps Lucas with his hair every morning before school, and they go to the barber together every six weeks or so. I still occasionally help the older girls if they need it.”

Brooke expressed appreciation to all the Black women who jumped to her aid in caring for Eme’s hair.

“C.C. and Eme’s hairdresser have been a huge blessing to us ever since we’ve brought Eme home from Texas,” Brooke said. “I’ve even met women at the beauty supply store who have offered their advice to me.”

While Brooke can now manage Eme’s hair on her own, she still recognizes the importance of  Eme having her hair done by other Black women. “I still take Eme to C.C.’s here and there to get her hair done,” Brooke said. “They adore each other, and I am grateful for the role model that C.C. is to Eme. She’s a great role model to all of our children.”

Eme also sees her hairdresser regularly to get her hair trimmed and styled.

In late 2018, Eme was officially adopted into the Larsen family as their fourth child. During Eme’s adoption hearing, she wore what she calls her “power puffs,” a middle part and an Afro puff on each side.

A hairstyle resembling a single “power puff.” Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash.

A year later, Eme would wear a power puff to her first ever cheer competition.

“Eme’s power puffs started as a fun nickname, originally making reference to the popular children’s cartoon,” Scott said. “However, now they really are her power puffs. They give her a sense of power and fierce confidence that nobody will ever be able to shake from her.”

The Larsens urge all adoptive parents who aren’t educated in the proper care of their child’s hair type to seek guidance. They recommended consulting with a specialized hairdresser, utilizing informed friends or family members, and doing online research through online communities and YouTube channels like Sekora and Safari.

“It truly takes a village,” Brooke said. “I’m beyond grateful for ours.”

Academic success and social happiness for student-athletes: mentorship and support is just as crucial off the field as on the field

Story by LEIF THULIN

Collegiate student-athletes aspire to reach the highest level in their sport. However, the reality is that only one NCAA sanctioned sport, baseball, has a percentage above 2 percent for college athletes becoming professional athletes. 

Many students who attend universities like the University of Utah travel far from home for the first time, naively entering college with expectations of becoming a professional athlete. They may have assumed that there would be no problems adjusting to the academic and social demands of their new situation.

Though the racial demographics of colleges are less skewed than that of the city within which the campus is located, many students experience culture shock. Salt Lake City is 87.2 percent white, University of Utah students are 70 percent white, yet an average of only six starters per collegiate football team is white. 

What this means is that many minority athletes attend the University of Utah for athletics and encounter entirely new racial demographics everywhere but the field of play. School alone is an adjustment for adolescents, but especially for minority athletes. There must be a liminal space or person to create a space for minority athletes to acclimate and grow academically and socially within the new environment. 

T.J. Burnett, who worked as the U’s football learning specialist, helped create comfort and prowess in the classroom. 

T.J. Burnett was the the University of Utah’s football learning specialist. Photo courtesy of T.J. Burnett.

Burnett, a former four-time Academic All-American, and a five-time All-American track athlete, proudly aided African American student-athletes at the U in their educational and social maturation on campus for two years. 

Burnett knew firsthand from his experience as a first-generation African American student the importance of prioritizing academics and social transitions. These can be overlooked, yet adjusting to these challenges may prove more difficult than the leap to collegiate athletics, which can form a shelter from the outside world. 

Burnett recalled in a Zoom interview, “Transitioning from high school to college, I honestly had no idea what it was going to be like to go to school, to go to college. When I got letters from schools, a lot of times it would be overwhelming. I didn’t really know what it would be like for me to go to college. I didn’t know if it was even affordable or accessible.” 

Nearly five years removed from his final days as a student, Burnett reminisced about his growth as an individual. He attributed much of it to the importance of education, and his gratitude for having African American role models to show him that people who look like him can thrive in the world of academics. 

“I truly believe education is the great equalizer in terms of getting people to have the opportunity for vertical mobility but it isn’t accessible to all students from all backgrounds,” he said. 

Burnett, who hails from Grand Rapids, Michigan, spoke of Dr. Damon Arnold, the special associate to the athletic director at Grand Valley State University.  Arnold inspired Burnett to take a job that remained within the realm of athletics while influencing students in a long-lasting way through academics. 

“He was somebody that young Black athletes could look at and be like, it doesn’t matter where you start it matters where you finish,” Burnett said. 

Burnett gratefully reflected that without the mentorship of Arnold and other mentors, many student-athletes including himself would have been worse off in their college experiences. 

“When I was graduating, trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I wanted to have this impact on student-athletes as well, paying it forward, and also it is meaningful work,” Burnett said.

U offensive lineman Braeden Daniels said in text message, “He [Burnett] helped relate the school material that was being taught in our classes to our lives as student athletes, men, and real life examples … He understood life from our perspective as he was a student athlete.”

Elijah Shelton, an African American Salt Lake City native and transfer from Utah State University to the U, did not struggle with culture shock, or making friends with either team. 

Elijah Shelton practices for the Utes. Photo courtesy of Elijah Shelton.

Though his transition from high school to college was not difficult, Shelton recognized that many of his former teammates who came from other states struggled mightily adjusting to the academic workload and the 82.4 percent white population of students at USU.

In a Zoom interview, Shelton noted that at Utah State, a class called Connectionsbecame important because it explained Utah’s culture and the importance of getting to know people and appreciating the cultures of everyone.   

“We kind of made our own culture within the Logan culture,” Shelton said. 

Josh Nkoy, a collegiate rugby player at Stanford University from Salt Lake City,  acknowledged several facets in his university experience that contributed to his academic and social acclimation and success. He listed campus organizations for African Americans and members of the African diaspora, including the Black Cultural Center, where Black people can congregate and study.  

People like Burnett provide a Black athlete an excellent academic role model, and can relate to issues of culture shock inherent in attending predominantly white institutions. He understands the balance of school and athletics, and can remind students to prioritize academics because there are worthwhile jobs beyond professional athletics. 

While sports fans focus on athletic feats, Daniels, Shelton, and Nkoy have found succeeding in college relies on a confluence of mentorship, university support, communities of peers, and cultivating a culture of prioritizing academic excellence. 

Nkoy put it best when he observed, “You’ll see a Black face doing good things at all times — I guess all of that really mitigates culture shock for everyone.”

One Latinx drag artist’s journey and integration of QTBIPOC spaces in Salt Lake City

Story and photo by JASMINE BARLOW

*Editor’s Note: QTBIPOC represents an acronym for Queer & Trans Black, Indigenous, People of Color.

Salt Lake City is making strides in opening diverse, engaging spaces for QTBIPOC artists and youth to express themselves in a variety of art, healing, and community programs.

Justice Legacy, a 20-year-old Latinx drag artist (pronouns: they/them), has passionately immersed themself into such spaces, honing and experimenting with their craft and personas. Featured as a performer across several venues, including the Utah Pride Center and Queer Haven SLC, their “coming-of-stage” story is steeped in courage, vitality, and being true to oneself.

Justice Legacysmall

Complexities surrounding Legacy’s upbringing weren’t always so glamorous. “I didn’t grow up with my biological father,” Legacy says. “He was an alcoholic, so our mom kicked him out because she didn’t really want that negativity around us. He was eventually deported to Mexico, so I grew up with my mother and my sister’s father.”

Reflecting on this change, Legacy realized that the absence of their father meant an absence of their Latinx roots. “Since I didn’t grow up with my dad, he carried the Hispanic side because my mom is white,” they says. “Although my sister’s dad was of Mexican descent, I was dipped into [Latinx culture] more than completely engulfed. I feel I have been ripped from a culture I really wanted to be a part of.”

Aching to rekindle this part of their identity, Legacy recently began teaching themself Spanish, learning more deeply about Latinx culture, and discovering what it means to be Latinx. For example, their primary onstage persona derives from traditional beauty ideals of Latinx women. “[My Latinx background] has definitely played into my look the most,” Legacy says. “I love the long black hair, bold red lips; very Selena!”

Sexuality and gender expression, another major aspect of Legacy’s identity, was explored at a young age. However, it wasn’t always met with acceptance. “If I wanted a Barbie or something not necessarily made for a boy, it was almost always met with a ‘no,’” Legacy says. “It was because my [father figure] wasn’t very accepting with what I wanted to do or what I wanted to be.” On the other hand, Legacy’s mother responded differently. “My mom grew and adapted, so I didn’t really have to come out to her. She always knew.”

It was in high school that exploration began to manifest as outward expression. “In high school, I did not understand my gender or who I wanted to be, so I came out as gender fluid,” Legacy says. “Basically, I wanted to wake up every day and dress as the gender I felt.”

The transition of gender fluidity subsequently sparked an interest in pursuing drag and makeup artistry. “I eventually came to realize that I want to identify as male, and use drag to express my feminine side,” Legacy says. “My styling is all self-taught. I woke up one morning and I was like ‘I wanna be a hairstylist, a makeup artist, all of it.’ I started practicing makeup, and my mom showed me.”

A big break emerged for Legacy when they were invited to perform at Queer Prom, an annual LGBTQ+ youth dance hosted by the Utah Pride Center (UPC). “I was ecstatic,” Legacy says. “I ordered a really good wig, and I thought I would splurge on my outfit.” The invitation also evoked feelings of nervousness, as it was one of UPC’s major events during the year and the young artist was fairly new to the drag performance industry.

Ultimately, it proved to be one of the most memorable, life-changing performances up to date. “It was a really crazy awakening,” Legacy says. “They asked me to stand by the photo booth, and people would come up and say: ‘You are such an inspiration, it’s so amazing what you do, you are so gorgeous.’ I couldn’t believe the impact I was making.”

Following the Queer Prom experience, Justice Legacy was invited to perform at other UPC events, including Masqueerade and another year of Queer Prom, as well as Queer Haven shows hosted at the Beerhive.

When asked about the inspiration behind the name “Justice Legacy,” it came from an affinity for “strong powerful heroines” and a twist of the “Justice League” series title. “It felt like a perfect name for me,” Legacy says. “I wanted to feel like Wonder Woman or Power Girl.”

If Legacy could go back in time, they would want to let their younger self know how much power they truly hold. “Sometimes I get too much into my head. I had really bad anxiety in high school,” Legacy says. “I would remind myself that where my mind is taking me to is not actually going to happen. It still takes a lot of reminding myself now that everything is going to be OK.”

Justice Legacy commends the amazing love, support, and authenticity imbued in the city’s queer spaces for supporting their journey.

Existimos is an inclusive, artistic community devoted to supporting QTBIPOC individuals like Justice Legacy. “We created Existimos because we wanted more art-focused spaces and events made for diverse and marginalized communities in [Salt Lake City],” says Graciela Campos, co-founder of Existimos with her sister, Patricia. “We just wanted our own community space that was ours.”

In response to how the broader Utah community can better serve the interests and needs of Latinx artists, Campos encourages tangible, meaningful action steps. “Buy art from them, hire them for gigs, go to local shows, pass the mic,” Campos says in an email interview. “Sometimes the broader art community only cares about what’s happening in bigger organizations or the biggest institutions where, honestly, a lot of local artists are better than what you see in museums and more diverse.”

To gain exposure and find more resources, Existimos decided to participate in Utah’s annual 2019 summer Pride event for the first time, despite the “crunch time” to make it happen. “We worked with local creatives Clover and Marqueza to plan it because we wanted more views and opinions,” Campos says. “My sister and I can’t speak for everyone in the QTBIPOC community.”

Campos believes that Pride should be a celebration about “community and existing unapologetically.” “[It] isn’t about cute slogans or pricey merch[andise] or rainbows everywhere,” she says.

Campos has a deep purpose and yearning for starting Existimos and creating the dynamic it is today. “I think [QTBIPOC] want to be in a space where they feel loved and accepted,” she says. “A space where they meet fellow creatives and feel inspired. A place to escape from the harsh realities they deal with. At the end of the day, they just want to find love and a sense of family and I believe we bring that.”

Running and maintaining the space (located at 7677 S. Main St. in Midvale) can be challenging: from working a day job, to balancing all of the responsibilities with a personal life. Funding the space seems to be the most pressing challenge. “We have a GoFundMe that everyone should check out and spread. It gives us funding to keep the space open every month,” Campos says.

Despite these challenges, the events reportedly turn out to be an intimate, heart-warming experience for everyone involved. “We don’t really care about turnouts or calculate those types of things,” Campos says. “We hold Zumba classes to like eight people and those are so uplifting. We have dance parties, movie nights, and art shows. We don’t care who shows up as long as people know there is space for them and they feel at ease and welcomed.”

For QTBIPOC feeling disempowered and struggling to find their voices, Campos imparts a message of hope: “There is a community out there, and it does get better. No one can ever be you, and the world would be less bright without you. So be authentically yourself.”

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