John Cain, is program director of community radio station KABF-FM 88.3 and host of KUAR's 52nd Street Jazz for more than three decades. He has been on the air in some capacity for "51 years and counting."
Cain got his start in the early 1960s working as an engineer and overnight disc jockey at Little Rock R&B station KALO-AM 1250. It was there that Cain developed his program niche. Cain said, “I featured material that you don’t hear normally. It was overnight radio that really gave me the opportunity to become a preservationist of sorts, a musicologist, a mixologist or whatever you want to call it."
Chris James, is a national award-winning poet. His plays include Dear Black People and The Odds Against US. He has been featured on the front cover of the Arkansas Times Newspaper for being one of Arkansas’ top visionaries. James is a member of Foreign Tongues poetry slam team, ranking second in the world’s second largest poetry competition in 2014. He is the founder of Arkansas’ only poetry venue and second black owned gallery, The House of Art. He hosts art integrated workshops and is a motivational speaker.
Garbo Watson Hearne owns Hearne Fine Art and Pyramid Art, Books & Custom Framing/Hearne Fine Art, located in the historic Dunbar neighborhood in Little Rock, Arkansas.
She developed Hearne Fine Art in the New York and Atlanta markets and expanded its services to include cataloging and fine art appraisals
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
EPISODE 217 Transcript
[00:00:00] ANNOUNCER: Today's edition of Up in Your Business features the arts, broadcasting them, in the case of John Cain; creating them, in the case of Chris James; and displaying them, in the case of Garbo Hearne. First up in this program about the arts in the African-American community in Central Arkansas.
[00:00:19] KM: The little rock legend, Mr. John Cain, A man who has seen a lot. The southern oppression of Jim Crow Laws, the Kennedy Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War. The formation of LBJs Great Society, which encompassed the Civil Rights movement, Watergate, and the .com boom.
Through all these, John’s career has stayed founded in radio. His job, his first job in 1960, was working as an engineer and overnight disc jockey at Little Rock’s R&B station; KALO, an AM station before the industries moved to FM.
This beginning led Mr. Cain to become a familiar voice in Central Arkansas for over half a century. Today, John is program director of the Community Radio Station, KABF FM 88.3 and host of KUAR 52nd Street Jazz 89 FM in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition, he launched the John Cain Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving African-American culture and history in Arkansas.
This foundation works closely with Arkansas Flag & Banner sister building on 9th Street; the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, an African-American museum whose mission is aligned with John’s. Welcome to the table, the legendary, Mr. John Cain.
[00:01:50] JC: Well, Kerry, thank you.
[00:01:51] KM: Tell us how you came to be the program director at KABF Public Radio.
[00:01:57] JC: Once I determined to do some positive things about things I never thought I could do things about before, but realizing that I had to change from commercial radio to public radio to do it. That was the beginning of a preservation initiative for me. I became a preservationist bit by bit. To start that, it was at KALO when I went and asked for a position not to be described as a top 40 disc jockey, but realizing there was an opportunity there because although it was a small station, it was one of the first signals in the city. I think the first, about 1928, maybe ’29. AM station, a thousand watts in the daytime, 500 at night. Here I am midnight to 5 AM doing basically kind of programming that changed the perception of African-American, mostly me, because I could reach out and get to a product. People were looking for places to get that kind of stuff, black theatre, or not, committing stuff that made it look like buffoons, but stuff that really opened up their souls and make and an impression. That’s how I really got into radio.
The artist was the focal point. It wasn’t about me. I’m basically an engineer at night reading meters, but I got five hours on the radio. I put everything in there you could imagine; jazz, blues, rock, Captain Beefheart. I might play everything, but it changed the dynamics of top 40 radio.
Before that, there were no ratings for nighttime radio. After Sonny Philips in KAAY and those guys came on and they cut back on the power at sunset, they assume that there were no audiences out there. I wound up with captured audiences; nurses, to professionals working at night, people out and about at night.
We extended storytelling. What I had on my side was a father who fought the second war, but he was a terrific storytelling. He could hold you on a spellbound on just telling you about something that happened to him down on the street. And so that was just an extension of this whole thing. Like, “Hey, I can do that.”
[00:04:33] KM: But you didn’t story tell.
[00:04:34] JC: No, I’ve never been a storyteller.
[00:04:37] KM: Although you sound like one right now, doesn’t he?
[00:04:40] JC: Well, I’ve experienced a lot and that sort of made me aware of how you conversate.
[00:04:47] KM: Did you say I have a spiritual life. What did you say?
[00:04:51] JC: Well, It made me really aware what I could do with thinking things through and getting a focus on how would I present myself to a job situation. I wanted a life change. I’m in the south. Not many opportunities. I grew in the country 12 miles from here, Wrightsville.
I just wanted to come in and be a different person. I was a quick study. I always have been. In school I liked civics because it gave me a sense of how business economics worked, the kind of politics that go with that stuff. From that, I wanted to explore the word. I was about ready to run away home.
[00:05:49] KM: What age?
[00:05:51] JC: And I just pestered my mom and dad until they just signed off the paper and I became a sailor at 17.
[00:05:58] KM: No way. Why is that not in the bio you sent me that you were a sailor. Now that would have been great to know. Where? For who? Not the NAVY.
[00:06:08] JC: Yes. United States NAVY.
[00:06:09] KM: Oh! I see. They let you go into the NAVY.
[00:06:11] JC: At 17.
[00:06:12] KM: And how long did you stay in the NAVY?
[00:06:14] JC: Just four years.
[00:06:16] KM: But you saw the world.
[00:06:17] JC: It opened me up to everything.
[00:06:18] KM: John, you already told me you were born in Wrightsville, Arkansas, but you haven’t lived in Arkansas all your life. There was a time you did community theater and jazz preservation. I think I read Alabama and Georgia.
[00:06:31] JC: Birmingham where I did most of it, darling. Yeah, Birmingham, Alabama.
[00:06:36] KM: Tell us a little bit about why that happened.
[00:06:38] JC: Well, I’m at KALO. We have one of the top African-American radio people that grew up in Pine Bluff, Larry Haze, returned from Milwaukee and took over KALO as general manager. He stayed at a couple of three years. And as he was exiting, he was going to Birmingham, Alabama to bring WENN programming up to what he call Afrocentric. He was using this term long before.
[00:07:11] KM: Afrocentric.
[00:07:11] JC: Yeah. Because of the host on radio, the top 40 jocks did, there wasn’t any room for real cultured stuff. He asked me to go because as he was coming in, I’m late night. He is the first person that come in every day. I’m working six nights a week. I’m going in at midnight, getting off at 6 AM, go home, get a couple of hours of sleep and go to work. Larry Haze comes in. He is the early morning drive host.
Before marketing and ratings were done, they were taking overnight things. Immediately, when I got that slot and changed the format to something that people really appreciated —
[00:08:00] KM: Just say change the world. Just go ahead and say the change the world.
[00:08:02] JC: Change the world. He realized that. As he’s moving to Alabama, he said, “Will you come with me?” I said, “Only if I got a slot for jazz. It has to be all night. I do the programming.” We made that agreement. That’s how I got there.
When I got there, the community theater was big, black bar community theater down there. A lot of people living in Buffalo and East New York and around were from Alabama, were coming back home. We had actors, musicians. These guys out here working the major venues. They were in the process of developing jazz hall of fame. I became part of the promotion of that on the radio helping to produce jazz shows. Basically, that’s at a paradigm shift, I guess you want to say it.
[00:09:00] KM: But you didn’t stay. You came back to Little Rock.
[00:09:02] JC: I stayed 8 years.
[00:09:03] KM: 8 years.
[00:09:03] JC: 8 years. It was 8 years. I got community theater and all that preservation stuff.
[00:09:10] KM: Did you do any acting?
[00:09:13] JC: I was Chairman of the Board of the Black Bar Theater. I did basically fundraising –
[00:09:17] KM: You’re always the chairman of the board somewhere.
[00:09:19] JC: I did a lot of fundraising. I was good at producing, because I just worked hard to get good shows and good musicians’ gigs that were not there before. That jazz community started to grow. Man, it just impacted all of the other art disciplines. When I went down there, Kerry, I had the choice of living in the city, Birmingham proper, or the Verb. What I did, darling, I rode into the city every night, five miles on a bicycle.
[00:09:53] KM: Just like you are today. Why did you do that?
[00:09:58] JC: Well, I had to prove a couple of things to myself that I’m going to Birmingham, Alabama and I really need to be just dedicated. I couldn’t rely on somebody else. I have to do this the way I could do it. I know I can do it and I just have to prove it to the people. That was the
easy part. They did become overwhelming as I started to interact with a lot of different disciplines, artists, sculptors. So I had to change in my way of going to work. I’m getting up at 10:30 at night, I’m going to work.
[00:10:36] KM: On a bike.
[00:10:37] JC: On a bike.
[00:10:38] KM: Why not a car?
[00:10:41] JC: I had to prove that I could get there. I wanted – I can ride a bicycle. I rode a bicycle for all the years I was a kid. I used to ride from Wrightsville to Alexander.
[00:10:50] KM: You’re the original millennial.
[00:10:52] JC: I just had to prove it to myself. It’s not like I got to get there –
[00:10:58] KM: And you weren’t afraid. It’s so late at night in Birmingham, Alabama, and they’re not exactly really to black people down there.
[00:11:04] JC: Well, I’m a night person. Yeah, I actually live on both sides of the clock.
[00:11:11] KM: The clock.
[00:11:12] JC: When I say the clock, I’d rather be up at night doing things when I got myself just alone, I can focus. I’m not interrupted. I think things through.
[00:11:24] KM: At night. You’re a night person.
[00:11:25] JC: I’m a night person. I’ve always been like that.
[00:11:28] KM: You said about your early days on radio, and I quote, “I featured material that you don’t hear normally. It was overnight radio that really gave me the opportunity to become a preservationist of sorts, a musicologist, a mixologist, or whatever you want to call it.”
When I think of a preservationist, I think of buildings, like you said the Mosaic Templar. Are you thinking about music or are you in preservationist for buildings too?
[00:11:59] JC: Everything that is —
[00:12:01] KM: All that you want to say.
[00:12:02] JC: There’s an art, a craft discipline, because that’s what it is. I mean, it’s a vehicle that anybody that want to dedicate themselves to a specific part of that. You make it work for yourself. This is your dedication. I just embrace it all.
[00:12:20] KM: Mm-hmm. You have a specific genre in music you like, and I think it’s jazz.
[00:12:25] JC: It’s jazz.
[00:12:28] KM: You’ve seen – You’re from an old school jazz, not Kenny G.
[00:12:34] JC: Not cool jazz, or whatever they called.
[00:12:37] KM: Smooth jazz.
[00:12:40] JC: Yeah, smooth jazz, because it is not intertwined the errors and timelines of jazz itself.
[00:12:51] KM: The originals.
[00:12:51] JC: The originals. The older musicians don’t really accept that as a new genre.
[00:12:59] KM: That’s like country music. There’s an old school country music and then there’s the new country music. If you’re a purist, you like the old country music.
[00:13:06] JC: Yeah. I became an audio pal purist kind of person.
[00:13:10] KM: You’ve seen a lot of changes in radio. What did a studio look like back then when you first started compared to the day?
[00:13:18] JC: Our studio, or —
[00:13:18] KM: No. All studios. Did the headsets look like these? Did the boards look like these? Has it changed much?
[00:13:25] JC: Yeah. The boards didn’t have sliders. They had knobs. You turn the volume up. Things like that. They were not composites like these materials are now. They were American made.
[00:13:40] KM: Plus, plus we’ve got call-in. Did you have call-in back then? I think so.
[00:13:45] JC: Yeah. Yeah, we had callers. You did everything. We did just like we record the transmitter reader. We had a phone connected to the transmitter.
[00:13:54] KM: It really hadn’t changed a lot. The industry really is one of the industries that hasn’t changed a lot except for we use computers now. How would you navigate or work the board if you didn’t have a computer, because Tim looks at the computer all the time?
[00:14:08] JC: Well, me being old school, and if I’m not hands-on, I’m not going to look at a new attachment that you got to learn how it works. I know how practically to get a sound out of any channel without a computer. To me, that’s preservation too. I refuse to let go of it because there’s sound quality that really holds people’s attention.
[00:14:40] KM: Okay. I’m going to give warning. For the next few minutes, you and I are going to have a candid conversation, an uncomfortable conversation with some. This is a warning to our listeners. But anybody that knows me all knows that I’m a safe person. This is a safe place. This is not to say that everyone has to agree with me or John. After all, this is America and everybody gets to have their opinion. Let’s start with what I think is the hardest question first and then we’ll lighten up.
Something people don’t like to talk about is racism, and it goes both ways. I mean, find the Taborian Hall, I found out the hard way. I’m the white girl that bought a significantly important African-American building. And I just want to say that it ki0nd of hurts my feelings.
[00:15:25] JC: I wouldn’t worry about that. You’re doing the right thing. If not for you, Kerry, that building would not be there.
[00:15:33] KM: See? That’s what I want someone to tell me. Thank you, John. You and I are both interviewed in the Dreamland documentary that’s airing on PBS, and I see you every week at this radio station. We have become friends and sometime talk and sometime rant about black and white relations in America today. Our discussions often in with you saying, “We can’t forget our history lest we repeat it.” Me saying, “White people want to quit feeling guilty about what our ancestors did and move on.” Can you speak to that?
[00:16:04] JC: Yeah, I can. Racism is a many layered thing. It begins with tribalism, which becomes eventually classism, that whole thing of dividing people up. People want certain things. Once I really got the definition down of what this is, instead of hating, I just decided to embrace everything, the things that I don’t like, I just get away from them. I’m looking for the positive.
[00:16:44] KM: You really are.
[00:16:45] JC: Rather than be fighting with people about my rights, I’m just going to do what I think is the right thing. I can embrace it all and make a decision that way not have popular opinion change my way of living. When I say that, I mean that’s why I want to stay close to nature. When you see me walking down the street, I’m not actually looking for a ride. I’m actually assimilating nature.
[00:17:18] KM: Don’t offer him a ride if you see him.
[00:17:20] JC: Don’t offer me a ride. I’m going to get where I’m going. On a snow day, I might walk three miles to get here. When all the people can’t, I walk. I’m driven by nature, really. Most people think I’m just being casual about it, but I’m not. I prefer cooking my own organic foods the way I want to eat it.
[00:17:42] KM: He is an 80-year-old millennial. After the 60s and 70s revolution, I think many people thought equality for all at last. I know I felt that way. I know LBJ thought that when he tried to create what he called a great society. LBJs quote is as follows, “A great society is to build a great society. A place where the meaning of men’s life matches the marvels of men’s labor.” You are exactly an example of that because you work hard and you’ve had a wonderful life.
Shortly after LBJ passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act, became the era of riots and destructions of property by African-Americans on their own business districts and neighborhoods. You were a young man living during that time. It was a little before my time. Can you tell us how you felt and give us your theory on what happened?
[00:18:34] JC: I was scared about it happening in my town. When remove things, Detroit on fire, it wasn’t as serious but although I’m getting friends returning home because they lost a job, they lost things. They made a reverse migration. The migration of blacks to the large cities went on for about 70 years.
[00:19:07] KM: How many years?
[00:19:08] JC: 70.
[00:19:09] KM: Yeah.
[00:19:11 JC: When LBJ implemented that policy and stuff and people didn’t get what they wanted, that’s when the large cities went on fire.
[00:19:23] KM: What did they not get that they wanted? I don’t know. I have no idea.
[00:19:26] JC: Te program wasn’t implemented immediately. Yeah, they made the legislation happened but it was 10 years after before a lot of that stuff was actually implemented in the neighborhoods that they were – In places where they needed to help people.
[00:19:41] KM: Oh, really?
[00:19:42] JC: Yeah. For instance, in 1962, I saw Gremlin College Football Team on TV. That was a major breakthrough, that marching band. In 1975, I was calling a football for Gremlin College on the radio.
[00:20:01] KM: Oh my gosh! I am going to rewrite your bio.
[00:20:03] JC: I did that about five years. The thing I’m trying to show you is, yeah, he implemented legislation but it took a while and so people like me waiting to see this happen, it never happened. I was still doing the same things I wanted to do just try thing out on my own.
[00:20:22] ANNOUNCER: Legendary broadcaster, John Cain, during this edition of Up in Your Business focusing on African American artists. In just a moment we'll hear from Chris James.
[00:20:32] GM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Over 40 years ago, with only $400, Kerry founded Arkansas Flag and Banner. During the last four decades, the business has grown and changed starting from door-to-door sales, than telemarketing, to mail order and catalog sales. And now flagandbanner.com relies heavily on the Internet, and live chats with customers all over the world.
Over this time, Kerry’s business and leadership knowledge has grown. As early as 2004, she began sharing her knowledge and her weekly blog. In 2009, she founded the nonprofit Friends of Dreamland ballroom, and 2014 Brave Magazine, a biannual publication. Today, she has branched out into podcasts, Facebook Live stream, and YouTube videos of this radio show.
Each week, you'll hear candid conversations between her and her guests about real-world experiences on a variety of businesses and topics that we hope you'll find interesting and inspiring. Stay up to date by joining flagandbanner.com’s mailing list. You'll receive our watercooler weekly eblast that notifies you of our upcoming guests, happenings at Dreamland Ballroom, sales at flagandbanner.com, access to Brave Magazine articles, and Kerry’s current blog post. All that in one weekly email. Or you may simply like flagandbanner.com’s Facebook
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[00:21:57] ANNOUNCER: In case you're just tuning in, today's program on Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy is featuring artists in the African-American community. And John Cain, legendary broadcaster, was our first guest. Now, Chris James.
[00:22:12] KM: He’s well-known for his achievement as a national award-winning, spoken word, poet laureate. But like so many creative people, he’s more than that. Chris is a playwright, educator, photographer, author, producer, TED Talk speaker and survivor. As a young black man fathering a child at 16, he has walked the walk of hopelessness and homelessness, and now talks the talk of empowerment as he pays his experience and knowledge forward through a variety of artistic mediums.
The name of your website is called The Chris James Journey, the chrisjamesjourney.com, which is a really apt name for your website, and is really the core of everything that you do. So let’s just start with this journey today. Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about your family.
[00:23:06] CJ: Man! I grew up with my mother, my two brothers, and that was it. Family now. I’m a father of five beautiful children, my twin daughters are right over there in the next studio looking at us. Yeah.
[00:23:25] KM: But your mother told you when you were young, most black man by the age of 25 will be either dead or in jail.
[00:23:36] CJ: Oh, yeah. America told me that. The world told me that, and I’ve seen that all my life. I’m still seeing that. Just being an educator, just being a community activist, I’m seeing that truth and it’s a reality. A lot of young people, black boys and girls are either dying physically way before the age of 25 or dying mentally and emotionally. Becoming parents at 13, 14, 15, or dealing with traumatizing situations that ruing their lives mentally and emotionally.
Yeah, and that’s one of the main reasons I do what I do today, because I realize there are so many people who come from where I come from all dealing with a level of mental illness because of the form of poverty we come from.
[00:24:28] KM: Those are the issues that are in your poetry. How do you talk about that without making people defensive?
[00:24:35] CJ: Well, I don’t think people will get defensive about me speaking about it, because everything I speak about, I’ve lived. Again, I was 16 when I became a dad. I was 16 when both of my brothers went to prison for 25 and 40 years. I was fatherless and still fatherless at age 30. Everything I’m speaking about I’ve experienced, and I think being that I have experienced it, it allows young people. So when I go into that alternative school with kids who are only there because their probation officers told them they had to be, or kids who are angry, or currently dealing with their level of trauma. They’re able to receive me a lot differently than they probably would receive you, because I’ve experienced this. So they’re more willing to hear me tell them that it’s possible to overcome what they’re experiencing.
I talk about it, because I think it’s important. It’s important to identify these struggles so you can then create solutions to overcome, because if you don’t see that stand in your neighborhood and selling drugs, breaking in houses, and having babies over and over and over and over by different men, and blazey-blazey. If you don’t identify that that’s a problem in your community, you’re going to continue to live in that cycle of problems.
So through my poetry, through my art, through my stage plays, through my books, I’m letting you know that this right here is harming us as people, as a community. Yeah, I don’t think it’s a challenge at all or people become defensive, I think. People become aware and they become enlightened when I shed light on them.
[00:26:18] KM: When I met you, you and I were both at the Maya Angelou Project and fundraiser, which gives scholarships to young people to go to college. You were a guest poet.
[00:26:30] CJ: Yes ma’am.
[00:26:31] KM: And you started reading poetry. Do you remember which one you read? I started crying, and I thought, “Golly! This one is really good. I’m crying. What’s wrong with me? But then you said that – You told me. You said, “Well, later, I’ve read this to a bunch of teachers in class and they all started crying to.” If they’re drinking at school, then we got really problems with the education system.
[00:26:54] CJ: Yeah. I think you cried because you’re a human first.
[00:26:59] KM: Do you remember it?
[00:26:59] CJ: Yeah, I do remember.
[00:27:00] KM: Can you do it?
[00:27:01] CJ: The poem?
[00:27:01] KM: Mm-hmm?
[00:27:02] CJ: Yeah, if you cash out me $5. No! Just a joke.
[00:27:06] KM: Throw in $5. Somebody throw him $5. Golly! Yes.
[00:27:10] CJ: Yeah, I got you though.
[00:27:12] KM: All right. What’s it called?
[00:27:12] CJ: So the piece, I call it Imperfect Picture. I wrote this piece, man, like 2012. So this is about to be 8 years ago. 8 years now since in wrote it. I just don’t write it through. Are we ready?
[00:27:27] KM: Do it.
[00:27:27] CJ: All right. Cool. You can check out this video to this poem, my YouTube, The Chris James Journey on YouTube and all that good stuff. Welcome to the City of Death, where
they don’t live long, and the children are grown by the time they’re 15-years-old. And the summers are cold, and the winters are hard, and sunshine don’t last that long. Welcome to the life of a child in the ghetto.
Imagine gunshots from the pistol of a young gangster being powered by poverty and anger. Aiming the chamber aimlessly in the open area where children run and play with no regard to danger. After all, they were just hanging, it’s a cold steep penetrated a youthful bodies of three black boys playing ball on the court to 21. Imagine a week later, that 15-year-old shooter shooting him own self in the head, neighbor taking her garbage and found him dead in the alley way with his blood stained still lays beside the dumpster. I guess he felt life was best unlived.
I saw people keeping close watch watching the time on its watch for the time to take the soul of a son of a single mother. I saw all their mothers crying and screaming, jumping over to church pews while they’re passing the preacher from the pulpit. Friends and cousins wearing t-shirts that are red, gone but not forgotten, no one dare forget them as soon as time has gone by. The only people love hurting is these mothers who are crying and dying for a chance to see their children alive one last time. Is it ironic that death stay close to young lives like pimps to prose, crack things to dope, slave masters ready to choke the life of a black beauty.
So these streets keep calling and sons and ghetto soldiers keep falling and set traps at trap houses, trapping their adolescents, promises the respect and imaginary stripes of others and a little bit of money to keep their mother’s hungry children from going hungry. Hell. It’s a win-win to them. Those who knows with the means to be poor and tell me what would you do if your lights in water were off and you are hungry and staking. What would you do?
One of my students came to school last week and he slept the entire day. I said, “Hey man! Why do you come to my class and sleep your whole life away?” He said, “It’s more peaceful in a classroom full of kids cursing than it is at my home.” I just stood. There were no response to his pain. He woke up and said, “Mr. James. What would you do?” Imagine, a young girl pregnant with her third child in 10th grade. She said her daddy was the father of all three, but he didn’t want to claim them or feed them. These words flowed her lips easy as if it was a normal situation to be the baby mama of a rapist, but she keeps coming to school every Monday. Ain’t that something? That life can be so full of chaos, but you still you find the courage to live on. It’s amazing how God keep giving birth to hope and faith born from a womb of obstacles thought
not to be overcome, like slave singings songs to the moonlight at night, “Follow the drinking gourd”.
Negro spirituals telling us to hold on. We can make it if we move our faith, but not by faith alone. These children at the bottom of the barrel, oh, a mission at hand, grab their hands instead of saying we can’t save them all, we can’t save all, we can’t save them all so many times until we convince our own selves that we can’t save them all. If we can’t, then who will? Nobody. Because we’re on the frontline. The expected heroes of that adolescence and they are waiting for us to save them.
This picture is painted for viewing, so view it, created by young restless children who are dying for the opportunity to live with the potential to be more than drug dealers, crack heads, prisoners, or dead. I can’t imagine giving up on these beautiful young people who are brimming with brilliance, because so many have already given up on themselves. Sitting back watching them die off slowly is no different from being a murderer. So I’ll often ask myself, “Am I a part of the solution or the continuance to this 21st century genocide?”
That’s that piece. Thank you all. Amen. Amen.
[00:32:05] KM: That’s Chris James. What’s the name of poem?
[00:32:08] CJ: Imperfect Picture.
[00:32:10] KM: That is an imperfect picture. When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with the man, Arkansas Times newspaper calls one of Arkansas’ top visionary, Chris James, educator and renowned poet. If you like what you just heard, stay tuned. More after the break.
[00:32:26] ANNOUNCER: Here's a message from Dreamland Ballroom, upstairs in Taborian Hall, home of flagandbanner.com. When a great organization serving a great community issues a new mission statement, that's a big deal. And the Friends of Dreamland has
won. Friends of Dreamland celebrates the community of historic West Ninth Street, shares the legacy of Dreamland ballroom, and preserves the original intent of Taborian Hall. Let's break that down. Celebrate the community, the men and women that lived worked and played in the West Ninth Street Neighborhood faced brutal social stigma every day, but thrived. We'll never forget this, and we'll always celebrate it. Share the legacy. There's no doubt that the most fun and fascinating facet of the history of Dreamland Ballroom are all the legends that graced the Dreamland stage. Unfortunately, it's taken only one generation to almost completely forget this great history. It promotes pride in our hometown when we remember it, and encourages us to do everything we can to keep this community strong. And finally, preserve the original intent. Taborian Hall was built as a central fixture of commerce, community organization, and entertainment. And that's our mission statement now. We have a major legacy to live up to and a lot of work ahead of us, but we plan to move forward. See how you can help develop a new mission statement into reality. Visit dreamlandballroom.org. This episode of Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy is featuring artists from the African-American community in Central Arkansas. We've heard from broadcaster, John Cain. We're in the middle of a conversation with poet Chris James. We'll hear about one of his TED talks here in just a moment. And still to come, Garbo Hearne, on displaying art. Back now to Chris James.
[00:34:12] KM: Overcoming the Odds is the name of the TED Talk that you gave, and you gave four steps to success. Let’s speak to each one of them and tell us why they’re important. I’ll just name them real quick. Believe, go to the mountaintop, jump and focus. Let’s start with believe.
[00:34:49] CJ: I talked about the importance of believing in my TED Talks, because I think the first step to success. Just like when you started the Flag and Banner company with $400. Somebody else probably would’ve looked at you like, “That’s crazy.
[00:34:50] KM: I’ll tell you the one they thought was crazy, when I bought the Taborian Hall downtown.
[00:34:53] CJ: Exactly.
[00:34:55] KM: That was a burned out building when I bought it. Go ahead. I’m sorry.
[00:34:58] CJ: But you are crazy enough to believe in yourself. I was listening to – What was it? The Apple commercial with Steve Jobs. He was giving a speech and he talked about the people who are crazy enough to believe that they can change the world use little ones to do. I’m a strong believer that you have to believe that much in yourself to be successful. And for a longtime, I believed in myself. So I used the quote in my TED Talks that Peter Pan was told that if he believes and thinks happy thoughts, he can fly. There are a lot of folks who never got the opportunity to fly in life, because they simply don’t believe in themselves. So how do you want somebody to believe in you or to invest in your idea, to invest time in listening to your ideas or your dreams when you don’t wholeheartedly believe in them yourself. I think that’s the first step to being successful. You got to believe. No matter how much you doubt yourself or no matter how much negative things you’ve experienced in your life. No matter how much trauma. No matter how rich you’re not. No matter how much support you don’t have immediately. You got to believe, right? When I open my art gallery, November 2014, The House of Art. A lot of folks didn’t believe that it was possible. But Chris Rocks said that people will ride past you while you’re on the side of the road with a broke down car. But once you get out of that car and start pushing yourself, pushing that car yourself, watch people pull over and start helping you, because once people see that you believe in your own vision, they’ll start standing behind you, and I’ve experienced that with every project I’ve ever done. Once people saw I was for real about it, they got behind me, because, “Oh! He believes in himself. He’s a visionary.”
[00:36:49] KM: A visionary, power of positive thinking is kind of what you’re saying.
[00:36:53] CJ: Yeah.
[00:36:53] KM: You got to talk yourself up.
[00:36:55] CJ: Mm-hmm. You got to believe. You got to believe that you are able to do.
[00:37:00] KM: Then the next one? Go to the mountaintop.
[00:37:03] CJ: Oh man! Come on now. Go to the mountain. I’m writing these down so I can remember what I used to talk about in that 2015 TED Talks. Man! Go to the mountaintop. I think I heard that quote from Steve Harvey. He talked about going to the mountaintop and then I kind of paraphrased it from there. But I took that, because you would never know if your wings work. So this is the way I look at it. We all have wings. We all have the potential to be birds, but like Maya Angelou talked about some of us are cage birds, right? You will never know if your wings work if you don’t go to that mountaintop and just jump, right? Often, sometimes we go to that mountaintop, we take the risk, right? That’s what the mountaintop – Jumping from the mountaintop is all about. All it means is taking the risk, right? Mark Zuckerberg says that the only risk is the risk that you don’t take, right? So you’ll never know if your wings don’t work if you don’t jump off that mountain top, right? Sometimes we jump off that mountaintop and then we just give up. We just fall into the ground, and bam! Because we didn’t know how to fly the first time. That’s the thing about flying. Even little birds when they’re pushed from the nest the first time, a lot of times they just fall. But their mama bird make them get back up so they can learn and they can keep trying to work those wings until you know how to master that flight. You can’t just jump and expect to be fully soaring. You got to take that risk. I believe wholeheartedly in jumping off that mountaintop so you can see what it feels like, and jumping off the mountaintop can be scary and can be uncomfortable. Anything that’s great, that’s major, is going to be uncomfortable. Like you right now at the beginning of your success, of anybody’s success, is going to be uncomfortable. But success comes in mastering your discomfort.
[00:38:58] KM: That’s good. Success comes in mastering your discomfort. I have a friend who says if you’re not getting out of your comfort zone every week, you’re not living.
[00:39:08] CJ: Exactly.
[00:39:09] KM: That seems a little excessive to me. I don’t want to do it every week.
[00:39:14] CJ: Maybe yeah.
[00:39:15] KM: Maybe once a month. Once a year. My mother used to say about me. She’d say, “Kerry, you just jump off buildings and build your wings on the way down.” That really spoke to me when I saw that in your TED Talk. So that was go to the mountaintop. Think big. Believe. Dream. Believe that you can do it. Dream big. Go to the mountaintop. Take that risk. Get up there. Climb up to that mountain and then jump off. That was your third one, was to jump off. Your last one was focus.
[00:39:51] CJ: Yeah.
[00:39:52] KM: You will fall to the ground if you don’t start focusing on how to fly.
[00:39:56] CJ: Aha! Yeah. Also, it’s easy to forget what your focus is. You got to focus on your focus.
[00:40:04] KM: You said that once you started being successful, that old girlfriends, old buddies, all these people started coming around. All these old ways started coming up, and you’re like, “I have to get focused again.”
[00:40:18] CJ: Mm-hmm. What had happened to me, man, I remember when I joined the military, I went off to basic training after high school. Well, I joined the army after high school, and I remember coming back and being at the movie theater with my old friends and them getting to – I’m fresh back from basic training, maybe a week or two, and I’m an American soldier now, right? Then they get into a group fight with another group of dudes. My homeboy got knocked out like pfff. He’s on the ground and I’m like right here and it’s like, “I can’t even jump in that, because I’m focused on my focus. I’m focused on getting out of the ghetto out of poverty so I in turn get my kids out of that. So when my brothers get out of prison in 25 and 40 years, they won’t have to come back to that, right?” I’m focused on my focus, and it’s easy to get distracted, because people you love will distract you from your focus. Especially when – It’s human for people to be jealous. That’s a human thought, human behavior. They will unintentionally sometimes distract you like, “You about to work today, bro? All your dream? You sure you don’t want to come kick it with us?” So it’s easy to get – You sure you don’t want to come smoking blunt with us? You sure? We got like three girls over here. You sure you don’t want to go? It’s easy to get distracted by things that you used to do with things you used to be a part of. Kerry, when you first got married, I saw some pictures of you in the magazine. You was a hot mama. Beautiful. You’re still beautiful, but I knew when you probably first got married, you were focused on your man. As soon as you got married and you’re working on being happy, suddenly old dudes hitting you up like, “Kerry, what’s up girl? You’re so fine, what’s up.”
[00:42:11] KM: That is so true.
[00:42:13] CJ: Right? That’s what happens when you focus on your focus, those old distractions just start coming out of nowhere, but you stay focused on your focus. Now 34 years later, you got these beautiful sons, you got that beautiful business. It’s a beautiful life because you stayed focus on your focus, and it ain’t always perfect. I know that. But the overall, “I made it happen,” and you all raised these children together and you all made it work.
[00:42:37] KM: We did. He’s brought back memories. I just got flustered there for a minute.
[00:42:45] CJ: Dang! Trying to hit me back up, didn’t you?
[00:42:49] ANNOUNCER: And the best kind of art always creates an emotional reaction. This episode of Up in Your Business is featuring artists from the African-American community. And next up, gallery owner, Garbo Hearne.
[00:43:01] KM: Founder and visionary of Hearne Fine Art Gallery. Hearne Fine Art Consulting and Appraisal Services and Pyramid Art Books and Custom Framings and I just found out you have an auction house?
[00:43:14] GH: Yes, with my husband.
[00:43:16] KM: I know, all of this is with your husband.
[00:43:17] GH: Of course. All of this is with him.
[00:43:20] KM: The consortium. So now we’re going to move into how you decided on art as a career.
[00:43:24] GH: Moved to Arkansas and realized it was a void. Especially as it relates to African American cultures so henceforth, we started Pyramid, those Pyramid Gallery.
[00:43:36] KM: Yeah, I saw that.
[00:43:36] GH: We’ve changed their name over the years as the business has evolved. We showcased primarily prints and work by local African-American artist. We moved quickly into, we added a bookstore and the service with custom picture framing because whenever I frame, nobody like the mess, wanted to change so the customer service person that I am, I was like, “I’ll change it and I’ll make it happen."
I spent a lot of more time at the firmware than I was at my business. We ended up buying a frame shop that went out of business, their supplies and then we ended up hiring a framer and henceforth, we became custom picture framing. Then of course, books are just the source of any knowledge is popper. You got to read for yourself and having a bookstore was so important to our business to help traffic and just the whole educational process of being a platform for local, regional and national authors and artist. It’s just kind of melded together.
[00:44:42] KM: The pyramid –
[00:44:43] GH: It was first, it was Pyramid Art Gallery, then it became Pyramid Gallery and Books. Then we moved to the river market district, we decided to –
[00:44:54] KM: You were the first to move to the river dock.
[00:44:56] GH: Yes, we were on the first floor, we were next to where the Museum of Discovery, we were there before the Museum of Discovery and the several restaurants on that. We outlived all those.
[00:45:07] KM: It’s a beautiful place, a beautiful gallery.
[00:45:10] GH: Yes, it was, the beauty of it was we initially, we came from in street and we had a sign on our building because we wanted to build a space but we didn’t get the loan. Forgot to take the sign down and someone about the building. Had to move, there we go.
[00:45:25] KM: That’s the place on Maine street?
[00:45:26] GH: That was the place on Maine street. 1308 Maine street. We moved into the river market district and we got to build out the space the way we want it to. It’s kind of like the best of both worlds, I still got a new space, wouldn’t mind but I was able to, we were right in the center of that building and it was smaller, very compact but you know, we got the job done and we grew our business there.
[00:45:52] KM: Is that when you changed your name?
[00:45:53] GH: Yes.
[00:45:54] KM: From Pyramid.
[00:45:55] GH: Well, I kept Pyramid. I read an article that said, you know, if you believe in your business, put your name on it. It also said, you got to be sure that people know what you do is in your name. I had all this space and I said, “Okay, I see it here. Hearne Fine Art.
[00:46:12] KM: I love it.
[00:46:12] GH: Then, Pyramid Art Books and Custom Framing, again, explains I kept my roots in Pyramid because Pyramid came from the fact that the pyramids are always going to be there. You go to Egypt, they’ve been there, they began in the beginning of time so actually, everlasting, that’s why I put pyramid in the beginning.
[00:46:33] KM: Well, most – I think I read what you said most art galleries don’t last more than five years.
[00:46:38] GH: Five years is the turning point of when you going to make it. We’re starting on year 31, we opened in 1988 so every year is like the beginning, every year is a new year for me. I can’t really – I know it’s been 30 years but I say, I hope I have 30 more years.
[00:46:58] KM: What was it like starting your business? I mean, did you think, how did you even – did you use your own money, did you think, this is going to be harder than I think it is or you think it was going to be easy and it turned out to be harder than you thought? That’s what most people said.
[00:47:11] GH: I really didn’t, it was a challenge, it was something that my husband wanted to do, he wanted me to help him, someone had to be their person that actually had a real job that had to support the family so I knew – That was him. And so I had the opportunity to take this dream that he had and it became mine and I taught myself the business of art and the business of just being in business and all. You know, working as an intensive care nurse, you had to understand how to prioritize what needed to be done so that really prepared me to be a business owner. I went in with so many unknowns if I probably had known the unknown, I probably would never have done it.
[00:47:55] KM: What was different that you think that – what was something that happened that you thought, wow, I didn’t expect that.
[00:48:02] GH: I think that when I sold my first piece of original art, I was just completely shocked. My god, probably six months in there because you know, we were selling prints and posters and you know, the whole just getting to understand and then meeting artist and is my knowledge of business and I grew, I realized that I was doing my customer a disservice by not offering them original art.
Because art is the basis of our civilization, it tells our story and why would you spend $300 on a $50 print when you can own an original.
[00:48:47] KM: Yeah. When did you decide that you wanted to be an appraiser?
[00:49:31] GH: Well, that came in 2004.
[00:49:35] KM: You’ve been in business 16 years now?
[00:49:38] GH: Yes. People would come to me, “What’s this worth? I bought this from you 10 years ago, what is it worth now,” and I realized that that was something I needed to teach myself. I needed to go and figure out how to do this appropriately. I went to NYU and I did a six-week intensive course.
[00:49:58] KM: You live up there?
[00:49:58] GH: Yes, stayed there for six weeks
[00:50:00] KM: Oh, how fun.
[00:50:01] GH: I took my youngest daughter, I think she was sophomore and our junior in high school and so she went with me and she stayed – actually, her first baby sitter in Connecticut. She stayed with her and I went to NYU and I used to see her on the weekends.
[00:50:19] KM: You stay in a dorm?
[00:50:20] GH: I did.
[00:50:21] KM: How old are you when you were doing this?
[00:50:23] GH: Let’s see. I don’t remember. It was 2004 doing the math, I had to be in my 40s.
[00:50:30] KM: How adventurous?
[00:50:32] GH: Yeah. I needed to know how to do it and I was the online person and I wanted, you know, the idea of going there for six weeks, they took us all over New York, they took us you know, every museum auction house. I just learned how to do it.
[00:50:48] KM: You came home when you changed?
[00:50:51] GH: Yes, I was ready to be home, I know why I live in Arkansas and I love Arkansas. I definitely, it was a six-week adventure.
[00:51:01] KM: So how do you find artists for your shows? You went to New York and met some, is it all just networking?
[00:51:07] GH: Well it is a lot of networking. You need artists who need other artists. And my goal is I probably have about 55 to 60 artists that I have worked with over the lifetime of the gallery and my goal is to work with artists who are passionate about what I do. They have a signature technique. You know their work without looking and you recognize it and teaching people how to invest in themselves and generational you are going to have all levels or art. So that’s why I have emerging mute career master artists so that you can move in all circles and educate yourself in all of that –
[00:51:52] KM: So would you say something, what was the first one something mid and then – emerging so that is the affordable ones.
[00:51:59] GH: Well I would say all of them can be affordable because we have that famous – We call it installment plans. Some people call it layaway. You can do whatever you want if you want a piece of art. You know when some people when you go buy a car? You go buy a car and say, “I’ll just take that one” and write a check for $30,000 or $40,000. You go in there with an idea that you’re going to pay on it, right? But the thing about art as oppose to a car, we get that piece of art on your wall at home. It is going to be worth more than that car.
[00:52:31] KM: Yeah it is.
[00:52:31] GH: So I say Uber, ride the bus, buy art.
[00:52:36] ANNOUNCER: Three different perspectives on art. On this edition of Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy; broadcaster John Cain; poet, Chris James; gallery owner, Garbo Hearne. Thank you for listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. See you next week.
[00:52:53] GM: You've been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. For links to resources you heard discussed on today's show, go to flagandbanner.com, select radio and choose today's guest Kerry's goal is simple, to help you live the American dream.