Twenty-nine year old, Jonathan Lykes, has a unique way of spreading his talents with the world. Not only is Lykes, a producer and a musician, Lykes is also a young activist. He has founded The Liberation House and The Black Joy Experience; both of which is a platform built around the idea of black and brown people sharing their thoughts and being free in their own skin while creating. Lykes, speaks about his many hopes and dreams with us, as we dive more into the background of where it all started for him.
What made you want to use your voice to fight for the rights of all people?
Lucille Clifton said it best, “come celebrate with me, that everyday something has tried to kill me, and has failed.” This celebration of our collective daily survival is what keeps us healed, even in the midst of experiencing state sanctioned trauma and violence. But it is what also makes me want to use my voice to fight for the rights of all people. I am motivated by my experience as a Black queer man in this country who is relatively conscious of systemic oppression, and angry as hell about it, even more now that we’re facing a pandemic that impacts Black folks at higher rates.
Would you consider yourself a spoken word artist/poet?
I started my artistic career off as a spoken word artist, as a teenager I competed in the international slam poetry festival called Brave New Voices. But as of now, I put all my poetic energy into the creation of freedom music.
With entrepreneurial innovation, what ideas did you want to implement into the Liberation House?
The ultimate goal of the Liberation House is to have physical creation sites across the globe that are safe spaces for what I call the holistic turnup or holistic energy. We want to have black owned space where it is safe for us to cultivate our culture while bringing our entire selves into the work we do. Something we often don’t get to experience on the day to day, if ever. The goal
is to be self-determined, where we can buy land and create enclaves of self-sustainable alternatives to systems of oppression.
Tell us more about The Black Joy Experience.
As Black and Brown, Queer and Trans communities continue in the lineage of the political and cultural mandates woven into black radical tradition, black organizers across the United States came together to release an album, The Black Joy Experience. This musical compilation of original Black freedom songs and liberation chants seeks to uplift Black activism and political participation through a message of joy, healing and holistic energy. Let’s be clear. Without joy, we won’t win in 2019 or beyond. Without joy, we won’t survive. Without joy, we will never heal. And without joy, we can’t love radically. But through the experience of Black joy, we will conjure up dreams of freedom that our ancestors will be proud of.
When was your breaking point, in deciding that you needed to speak for all people now?
I don’t necessarily want to speak for all people. But I want to do everything possible to make sure that my people are heard. This breaking point came very early in my life, as a teenager I was meeting with my governor and local politicians to demand justice towards the goal of liberation.
Are there any people who inspire your work?
I am truly inspired by the work of my movement mother, professor and mentor Dr. Cathy J. Cohen. Most of what I know about fighting for a better world through a transformative lens, I learned from her. She created the Black Youth Project and brought together the 100 Black youth activists and organizers that formed BYP100. But I am also inspired by the legacy of many Black women that created havens for many of us living in a world that deems us vulnerable.
Have you faced adversity within your career? How do you handle that?
Because of the nature of my work, I face adversity every day. I am literally trying to change systems that were created and designed intentionally to marginalize our communities. What do I do to handle it? I continue to organize and take action in my community because Black and Brown people, since the inception of this country, have been living in a world where systems are designed to disrupt our lives, criminalize our bodies, patrol our behaviors and police our humanity. This is a world that has intentionally— and in most cases— strategically created mechanisms to ensure that our lives are devalued, apathologized and left to fend off a set of historical, harmful and institutionalized policies and practices. I am motivated to take action out of necessity!
What message would you want your listeners/supporters to receive from your work?
I want the my listeners to know that my community-- queer Black and Brown communities-- have created our own connected parts, our own community of resiliency, our own sub-cultures, our own spaces of holistic energy and healing and our own systems where we can experience liberation, self-determination and the power to radically shape (and reshape) our own lives. The goal is to grow a movement of joy and transformation globally across the Black and Brown diaspora.
What do you feel like you bring to the culture of music and to today’s society?
I learned from a sibling of mine that our legacy isn't what you leave behind, it’s more about what evolved from the holistic energy that one shared with the world. This is freedom and movement music. This music hopes to bring the manifestation of our imaginations and our ancestors dreams into reality. It is raw energy and that is what I want people to feel not just when listening to my music, but when they are sharing their power and creations with the world.
How do you promote your music in these trying times as an artist?
We believe in being where the people are. Which is why the Black Joy Experience isn't just a musical album, it is an event. It is the sharing of energy and laughter and joy in our every day connections with people we’re in social solidarity with. We hosted a Black Joy Experience Virtual Concert in April this year. It allowed us to prove we can still experience the spirit work of our time, even through a zoom call.
- Georgette Smith