Time has an incredible way of changing pace. While September feels like yesterday, it seems like a lifetime away when I compare it to the present. The creative process is so fragile and easily muddied by the static of everyday life. For me, this project has required a great amount of clarity and stillness, things that have always been hard for me to capture. But I take this moment in the eye of the storm to finally offer something that is constantly on my mind. Many thanks to those who sat with me those months ago to share a slice of their story.
I have always been so excited to open this series with someone who embodies so much of what I feel is right with this city. Kelly Dezart-Smith, aka Kelly Lovemonster, stands at the focal point of San Francisco’s art, culture and music scene. At the age of 29, Kelly is the producer of an online lifestyle magazine AHDM4U, and the mastermind behind one of the most relevant parties in the city, Swagger like Us. The definition of a taste maker,Kelly has an eye for the new and is in constant collaboration with artist from around the city. He sat down with me one day, last September, to provide a little personal insight into his experience being a black face in San Francisco.
Natalia: Being a prominent face in the community, is it hard being out so much and not seeing people who look like you?
Kelly: Yes it is. It’s really funny because just last night, I went to a bar in the Mission and I was sitting at the bar by myself, which I usually don’t do. I was the only black male in the entire bar and it was really intense for me. I just felt like, not that I expect anything to go down, but this idea that there’s something to go down and like, would everyone just gang up on me?
N: Right. When it stops being cool real quick.
K: Exactly and it was really interesting because then the bar back who’s working was this beautiful, black woman and comfort set in as she literally came out to me and was like, “Hello there”. We just like connected and it was really beautiful to see another brown face. So when I do see another brown person, it feels good to be reminded that I’m not alone. It’s even cooler when I’m in my subculture because I’m like, there are brown people who like similar things as me.
Growing up on the east coast, I didn’t think about being brown. I just existed but living in California and living in San Francisco, I feel like I consciously wear my brownness out. Like I grew my hair when I came to California and it seems like, I’m black, I want to have dreads. I’m going to have long dreads. I’m going to do everything I can that feels black and beautiful to me because I want that. I don’t want to blend in to the mainstream culture. I don’t want to be blending to a white idea of what’s beautiful. I want to do something that feels black and beautiful. And I thank California for that because it’s really made me embrace my blackness, like how dark I get in the sun, like how my skin glistens in the sun. I love all those things.
N: Do you ever get frustrated having to explain “black” things?
K: I’m super patient. I’m easy going so I will take the timeout to educate someone on, for example, the notion of black hair and what my hair is and how my hair grows just because I get it, you probably don’t know. You probably never thought to go seek out how it happens and, especially with people I’m close to, who genuinely care and want to know, I’ll take the time out. I’ve also been in spaces where people feel like they have access to my body and to me in really insane ways and I’ve had people come up to me and say the wildest, wildest things.
N: Like what?
K: I was at a daytime party in the Mission and this guy comes up to me. He’s a white guy and he goes, “Oh, you’re the blackest person here.”
N: Wait. What?
K: He didn’t say anything bad but there’s something about having someone white approach you and say that you’re the blackest person there without any context. That feels a little off.
N: Did you know him?
K: Never met him, never seen him in my life. So then I was standing with two other friends who are white and they looked at me like, do you want us to do something for you? and I just turned to the guy who told me I was the blackest person in the room and I was like, “Wow, that was the most racist thing I’ve heard all day.”
K: Part of the reason why I like your project and what you’re doing is because I still think a lot of white people don’t know how to differentiate black people. I think they lump us all in one group and they don’t see there is a difference from a black American to a black Caribbean person or a Caribbean American as opposed to an African American as opposed to a Cuban American. Like we can all have the same skin tone, we all have very different cultures and different backgrounds and I think that’s something that’s really important to highlight because it would be a shame for me to deny my family’s history that my parents migrated into this country from Haiti. They had to learn a whole new language, had to go to school all over again. They have very little ties to this land.
K: It’s just like if anything, I want all people to understand there’s so much more to a black face and there’s a depth you wouldn’t even begin to believe.
N: Do you think this city is creating an environment for you not only as a black person but for you and your interest to create something here?
K: I feel like myself in particular, I have a really important role in San Francisco, I feel like I’m one of the people who creates brown spaces. I have a queer hip-hop party that was started on the premise of I wanted to create a space for brown people who like similar things to come and exist and be together. So I feel like I can’t leave San Francisco. I feel I have an obligation to the Bay Area, I have a duty to San Francisco because if I leave, who’s going to take that arm?
N: What do you hope to create?
K: Well I think my partner and I since we’re not only an interracial couple, we’re international couple, we’re trying to create a lifestyle for ourselves where we can be mobile, where we can have several homes. So San Francisco will forever be one of our homes. I don’t ever foresee myself leaving San Francisco. I feel like San Francisco would be always the place that I returned to. I will probably always keep an apartment in San Francisco. I want to have a home base here.
N: Well nice. Thank you, Kelly.
K: You’re welcome.
Do yourself a favor and allow yourself to be a part of the scene Kelly has created. Join him at his bi-monthly queer hip-hop party, Swagger Like Us. Or if you’re far away, visit him and co-producer Caitlin Donohue at ahdm4u.com.
Want to be profiled for Black Faces in SF? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org