Culture Report: The Power of 'a Black Dad Being a Black Dad'

Arts/Culture

Culture Report: The Power of 'a Black Dad Being a Black Dad'

Carol Williams to step down as the city’s civic organist, artistic interventions along the border and more in our weekly digest of arts and culture news.

Complaints about the lack of diverse depictions of black people – especially black men – in the media is nothing new. But Beleaf Melanin decided to do something about it.

Melanin is a hip-hop artist, so when he launched his YouTube show about being a stay-at-home dad, he was in unknown territory. He said he had no idea things would take off so quickly.

“People are connecting more with this than they ever did with my music,” said Melanin. “And I think I make really good music.”

Beleaf in Fatherhood” launched last October and already has over 10,000 subscribers. The show offers an intimate look at some very raw moments Melanin has with his 2- and 3-year-old sons. 

The show’s also funny and entertaining, incorporating some of Melanin’s original hip-hop music and focusing, at times, on his relationship with his wife. It helps that his kids are ridiculously cute and feisty. 

Through short weekly episodes like “Eggs on the Bed” and “Father’s Day Gifts Suck,” Melanin adds his day-in-the-life depictions of black men to the world. He said that’s one of the goals. 

“People get to see black people being normal,” he said. “It demystifies everything they see in the media and everything that’s being pushed in front of them from their friends on Facebook.”

And through edgier episodes like “Why Raising Black Lives Matter,” Melanin addresses race head-on. He’s aware, though, that by simply showing a black dad being a black dad, he’s directly addressing the notion that black men are absentee fathers.

Melanin grew up in Baltimore, where he said getting someone pregnant felt more like a death sentence than a reason to celebrate. He said it wasn’t until he moved to California and met young, happy black families that his outlook on being a husband and father started to change. Now he hopes to show other black men who feel the way he used to that parenthood is something to be passionate about.

“I don’t condone men leaving their families, but I do understand why some men give up,” he said. “It’s horrifying to become a father. Everything we feel as men – the pressure and then the fact that you have to lead a family – that’s a lot. … So I understand why men leave, but the reason why is that I feel like it’s a cycle that’s been perpetuated and it’s all some of us know – we know that it’s an option to leave. So, for me to show that it’s not an option is key. I want to tell them, ‘Yo, it gets better.'”

Part of the appeal of “Beleaf in Fatherhood” is its artistic quality. Melanin uses multiple iPhones and a GoPro camera so he can shoot interesting angles. He spends hours editing each episode, adding text and music to make it more entertaining. He said he learned everything he knows by watching other YouTube video bloggers, and he took what he learned through making music and applied it to the show.

“Basically, I just borrow from the concept of hip-hop,” he said. “Hip-hop is taking nothing, or taking what little you have, and making it into art. So that’s what I did.”

Melanin isn’t making any money through his show yet (it’s no secret that Google AdSense, the program that’s supposed to help YouTubers monetize their products, totally sucks). But he cringes at the idea of running a crowdfunding campaign until he finishes a new album or otherwise has more to offer his fans. Plus, he said, his show is about more than just making money.

“The message seems to be hitting people so deep that I can’t really care about the money,” he said. “Some people are like,’ Yo, this inspires me to be a better dad,’ and that’s enough for now.”

• Fellow parents, ya’ll should listen to Melanin’s song “Diaper Bag” because it’s hilarious.

You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.

San Diego’s Civic Organist Is Leaving

If you didn’t know the city of San Diego has a civic organist, you’re not alone.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

Carol Williams has filled the role for over 15 years. She’s performed hundreds of free weekly concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park, but Monday night she announced onstage that she’ll be stepping down at the end of September. The news was met with “something between a gasp and a groan,” said one concertgoer.

The announcement brought to mind the time in 2011 when the City Council questioned the value of having a civic organist. It was during a round of budget cuts and then-Councilman Carl DeMaio questioned why funding for the organist came from the city’s Park and Recreation Department, which had been hit hard with deep cuts. He thought the money should come from the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture.

Even though everything worked out and Williams continued to get paid through Park and Rec, it made me wonder how safe the civic organist position really is. Williams and Ross Porter, the executive director of the Spreckels Organ Society, however, assured me that they’d be filling the position.

Williams, who will stay on as the Spreckels Organ Society artistic director and help line up musicians to make guest appearances every Sunday until a new civic organist is hired, said a search committee is being formed and they’ll be looking internationally for someone to fill her role.

“We’ll get in someone really good to take over,” she said. “There will always be a free Sunday concert and there won’t even be a pause.” 

Ross told me he couldn’t promise that the replacement civic organist will have David Bowie songs in his or her repertoire.

“I can say that whoever we hire, they have to bring something special,” he said.

Arting Up the Border, Opera’s New Ventures and Other Arts and Culture News

Former Culture Report author Alex Zaragoza explored the recent series of artistic interventions at the San Ysidro Port of Entry created by artists who grew up on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border for LA Weekly.

The haunting and heartbreaking images of the rescued Syrian boy inspired local artist Elena Karavodin to paint a portrait of the boy, sell it and donate all the money to Save the Children’s Syrian Children’s Relief Fund.

• Artist Susan Zoccola is creating a piece of public art for University City’s new fire station. She’s looking for folks to share their knowledge about the community

San Diego Opera just announced that the company’s scenic studio crew has been hired to “create a replica 1950s-era, San Diego-themed city replete with historic storefronts including a museum, a movie theater and city hall” for a new adult day program facility in Chula Vista. Here’s the press release explaining the unusual partnership. The opera is also heading to Santee this weekend, launching its new Opera on Track series of free opera performances at local trolley stops. Both of these new ventures are part of the opera’s transformation since its near-death experience in 2014.

• The AjA Project’s new photography installation at the San Diego Museum of Man includes more than 60 self-portraits by local teens and a mini-documentary. (U-T)

• Famed local nature photographer Abe Ordover is retiring. (CityBeat)

Get ready to see a lot more murals in San Diego. (sdnews)

• Comic-Con bought some buildings in Barrio Logan. (U-T)

Comic-Con spokesperson David Glanzer told us about the Barrio Logan buildings and the org’s plan to move its offices and approximately 40 staffers there in a past VOSD podcast (he talks about it at about the 30-minute mark).

Food, Beer and Booze News

Follow these local chefs and foodies on Instagram, but be forewarned that their pics will make you hungry. (San Diego Eater)

• Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, who runs a brewery in San Diego, does a long Q-and-A with Paste Magazine.

I want to be down with these, but that might be just a bit much bacon.

Speaking of bacon, it’s apparently bacon week in San Diego.

Oceanside’s getting a speakeasy. (Eater San Diego)

After reading this article in Forbes, I’m still not sure what, exactly, “clean food” is, but now I know there’s a clean-food restaurant coming to San Diego.

Kinsee Morlan is the engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at kinsee@vosd.org. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link.

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