October 14th 2013
Two Means to a Common End: Eliminating Personal Barriers through Music and Mission
Party Corps’ next Music for Good party is Saturday, November 2nd at 111 Minna and will feature Grammy-nominated artist Carolyn Malachi and beneficiary Good Cause Directory member, At The Crossroads (ATC). We recently had a chance to speak with Carolyn and ATC Co-Founder and Director, Rob Gitin about their work and their sources of inspiration.
Party Corps: Tell us a bit about what At The Crossroads (ATC) does, how you do it and how long you’ve been doing this work.
Rob Gitin: At The Crossroads has been around for 16 years, started it in 1997. We created the organization because there are a ton of homeless kids and there are some who have a fairly easy time asking for help, seeking help, working within the kind of traditional systems of help, and then there are others that have a harder time with it. Either they face personal barriers that make it hard to get help or there are systemic barriers that services create that make it hard to access the help that’s there. So we wanted to create a program specifically for them that would focus on reaching the kids that don’t get reached by traditional services and doing everything in our power not to just help them build okay lives but to help them build outstanding lives, lives that they’re really excited about, proud about and feel great about. We walk the streets at nighttime in the Tenderloin and Mission in San Francisco 4 nights a week building relationships with kids on the street. We then meet with them one-to-one during the daytime wherever they want. Whatever they want to work on, that’s what we work on and we’ll basically work with them for as long as possible and our support is unconditional. We’ve never kicked anyone out in our 15 years so that’s the thumbnail sketch.
PC: We all start off as kids performing in plays and musicals but at a certain age the majority of us stop. Carolyn, at what age did you know that you wanted to be a singer and who encouraged you to continue on that path?
Carolyn Malachi: I was an under-grad at Shepherd University in West Virginia, and I had a professor who was the Chair of the Communication Department and saw that I had really taken to certain audio production software. He really pushed me to create music digitally that would help me perform all these lyrics I had in my book for years and years. Like you said, we started as kids so I had journals from elementary school with lyrics but no music to accompany it. I think the defining moment for me happened over a series of gigs around college. Again, we were in West Virginia so it wasn’t a very diverse environment, but as the only woman of color in my band I could see how music would bring together my friends who were predominately African American and then my band-mates and friends coming out to the gigs. All of the sudden you have this opportunity for people who are from very different backgrounds to gather. That was a huge win.
PC: I’m wondering if there’s a particular feeling you want your listeners to get when they hear your sound?
CM: Well, I do want them to be inspired but most importantly, I want them to know that it’s okay to eliminate self-imposed limitations. Rob, when you were talking a light bulb went off. I think with you and I, what we both do is encourage people to eliminate self-imposed limitations and those assumptions that there are things we can’t do because of who people say we are or because our personal afflictions or where we come from. That’s what I want people to get from the music: to know that they can do it, whatever their goals are to know that they can reach them.
RG: I definitely hear you on that. I think often the kids that we work with are facing two sets of barriers, there are the barriers that society puts on them and then there are the barriers that they create for themselves, more in their mind than anything else.
RG: So many of the young people we work with didn’t come from the greatest families and in some cases came from fairly horrible families. You just don’t get that kind of sense of self-esteem and self-worth and just sense of self-cultivation when you grow up in that situation. Often what we’ve found is the single biggest thing we can provide is giving them a safe, trusting 10 year relationship with someone who really gets to know who they are, and what’s special about them is that it helps them reacquire those things or even acquire them for the first time. I think that it’s when you start to build that sense of self and confidence that suddenly those limits that you might put on yourself or that others might put on you can start to melt away or at least feel like you can conquer them.
PC: Party Corps’ Music for Good model involves identifying a nonprofit and pairing them with an artist that we know could have a genuine interest in what that nonprofit does. It’s about collaboration and uniting two ideas, two missions that have things that are similar. I’m wondering, Carolyn, if there are particular artists that you’ve collaborated with that help inspire you or have ignited a new passion in you to keep you going?
CM: There are several. One in particular is an artist from South Africa. His name is Hip Hop Pantsula he is quite easily the most notable hip hop artist in the country, in South Africa. I toured with him in 2010. I went around the country, did a bunch of shows, and literally when I say this is a big guy I don’t just mean his stature, I mean he has his own deodorant.
RG: (laughs) You know you made it when you have your own deodorant.
CM: Right, right! I think he’s got toothpaste too or something like that. If people are brushing their teeth with the toothpaste with your face on it you’re a big deal. So he uses his celebrity to affect change in his country. People would just mob him but he took the time to talk to every single person and people would tell him how his music affected their lives. In addition to the causes that he speaks out about, like xenophobia, I believe he’s preparing to walk across from South Africa to Kenya as a demonstration, just learning to use that spotlight, learning to use that platform to inspire people through music. He has been such a great coach where that’s concerned. Essentially, the bigger my brand gets the more social good I can do. I don’t just write a check or show up at Christmas and kiss babies: this is something that is very real and it is built into my brand. And I think it’s a very cool thing that Rob and At The Crossroads have been able to sustain your movement for 15 years without putting out a single person.
RG: Thank you! We work with kids who have been victims of violence throughout their entire life with severe mental health issues, but we always try to focus on what we can do with them. I think it’s one of the things that both our kids like most and that our staff likes most: we’re not put in a position where you have to say to someone in need, ‘no we can’t work with you.’
PC: That must be crazy to know the stories of some of these kids and having to give them, like you said, that unconditional support, unconditional love.
RG: I think a couple of the things that keep people at At The Crossroads for a long time is that we don’t have to ever turn your back on someone you care about. We don’t ever have to kick somebody out who we’ve really grown to know and respect and appreciate as a human being. We do see kids at their worst. We see kids in extraordinary crisis. We have clients who die. We have clients who get killed, who kill themselves. But on the other hand because we get to work with kids for a long time we get to see kids not just get off the streets but fall in love and get married and be a parent in a way that they never had experienced themselves. So I think those are the things that make it easier to sustain this work on a personal level for me and my co-workers.
CM: So Rob, that’s what keeps you inspired?
RG: Well, I’d say it’s different things. A lot of my focus is on trying to create as strong a team as possible. I draw a lot of inspiration from our larger community, the people who donate money, the people who volunteer their time, and the people who spread the word about our organization. I feel there are so many choices in terms of causes to support and most people are busy and feel there’s a lot more they’d like to do than they have time to do it. I think for me, what helps keep me motivated is seeing that there are a lot of people who value our work and value the kids that we work with.
How about you Carolyn, what do you feel like has kept you going strong in the work that you’ve been doing and trying to build on it?
CM: Honestly, when it gets tough I think of this one story of many that brings me to tears often. There’s a song I have called Beautiful Dreamer and shortly after it was released I received a Facebook message from a tribe member-- I don’t like to use the word “fan”, I like “tribe”, because we’re one unit in constant motion so that’s why I say tribe.There was a tribe member who sent me a message on Facebook and she said that she was watching the Beautiful Dreamer video one morning and her son who’s 6 years old and autistic walked over to her computer, pointed at the screen and then pointed at himself repeatedly. He did this during a point in the video where the young girl who is being bullied recovers and I give her her journal back, which had been stolen from her and ripped to shreds, and I hand it back to her in one piece and she looks up with a huge smile. It’s knowing that when the music reaches people, it creates a response. It creates a connection, and people feel it, and it has a real place in their lives. It’s not throw away music. It’s like knowing that what you do is medicine for people who never see a doctor and its worship for people who never get to church.
PC: This event (Music for Good) is in early November at the beginning of the holiday season. Can you both talk about what you’re thankful for and describe how some of the people in your life have helped you get to where you are now.
CM: I am thankful for an amazing team. We have been brought together it seems by magic. We are all tethered to this one vision. We really all do believe that music can change the world. We really believe that we can inspire and unite people through music. It’s a very bold goal, but we believe that we can do that and we believe that we are doing that so I’m thankful for my family, my team, my tribe. I’m very, very thankful. And I’m thankful for every opportunity we have to travel: we’re releasing an album in Japan with no record label. Who gets to do that? Who gets to use their music to send kids to school? There are so many amazing things to be thankful for.
RG: Like I was saying earlier I think the thing that I feel most grateful for is just our broad community. People who give money, people who volunteer with us. It’s all very important and essential for us in order to keep doing what we’re doing.
Join us in celebrating Carloyn Malachi’s music and supporting At The Crossroads on Saturday, November 2nd at 111 Minna. Doors open at 7:00pm, show starts at 7:30pm. Get your tickets here! ALL proceeds will go directly to ATC.