Creative Soul

Five bright Tucson lights to help ease what sometimes seems like the darkest of days

Today, in 2017, it seems we are damn near obligated to focus on our collective future since a certain someone in Washington is hell-bent on dismantling it Tweet by 140-character Tweet.

The news is often one exasperated breath of "Oh dear God, what now?" This makes it difficult to find the bright lights. You know, the bright lights we are supposed to run towards when the darkness threatens to swallow you whole? And with the unsettling events that took place last month during a nonviolent protest organized by the immigration rights group L.U.P.E., it feels like the bright light has been reduced to a pinhole.

Protestor's blocked an area of Congress Street and Granada Avenue to call attention to the increased deportation efforts of the federal government through Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Through cell phone video and Tucson Police Department body-cam footage, police treatment of protestors has been called into question—an older woman pushed to the ground and then pepper sprayed and additional protestors pepper sprayed and arrested.

What was the older woman doing? Chanting. I watched, horrified, as officers pushed another woman to the ground, and carried her away like an animal, as she screamed and cried for help from a crowd paralyzed to help her. Darkness, as a force, is strong and reckless, and all consuming in its abandon. But this is Tucson, and because we are a rebellious bunch, we will not let Don Cheeto plug the pinhole.

Here is some needed light. Five creative Tucson souls, hellbent on shining and fighting in the same glorious breath.

Tere Fowler-Chapman

Tucson has the privilege of holding space for some of the most multifaceted creatives this side of the Mississippi. First up, Tere Fowler Chapman, poet and host of the monthly poetry gathering Words On The Avenue, and, the newly minted playwright, whose first play opened at Centennial Hall, and closed to a standing ovation.

Not only did Tere just give a most compelling TED Talks presentation on the power of poetics and showing up "as you are," but she literally has the capacity to make you question your life and claim your life in the same breath, with merely a pen and paper. She believes that poetry is a life-saving instrument, much like an airport defibrillator, the Heimlich, or a stranger giving you CPR.

When asked why poetry, Tere says "I am not sure."

"I really struggle with the idea of English being my medium for art. This language that attempted to exterminate me and my family is infused with this gift of rhythm and cadence and blues that has always belonged to me. That doesn't belong to any particular genre. That is a response to writing and performing within a world that never intended for my voice to be heard in the first place."

Whether you are looking to be wooed by Tere's sweet telling of how she met her fiancée', or looking for a deeply profound call to social justice in the name of Black Lives Matter, Tere delivers on all fronts. You can catch Tere at Words On The Avenue, the last Sunday of every month at Cafe Passé, 7:30 p.m.

Facebook @wordsontheavenue

Deanna Din

Deanna Din is a fashion designer and seamstress recently featured in Tucson Lifestyle magazine as an up and coming designer, was chosen to debut her entire first collection at Tucson Fashion Week 2015.

Her clothing line Fruition, embodies the beauty that fashion media at-large would tell you has no home—the curvy, confident woman. You see, 6-foot-tall Deanna has curves that make the road from Flagstaff to Sedona look like a straight shot. She knows a thing or two about not being able to find clothes that work.

She says she created Fruition for women like herself.

"I too often found myself ending my shopping excursions empty handed" she says, "and feeling somewhat out of place in society due to clothing options in stores being limited to this 'cookie cut out' ideal size of a woman."

Deanna says she wanted to create a to celebrate women in all their glory; a brand that would empower women to grow and be the monumental beings they were created as. And thus, Fruition was born.

Elizabeth Denneau

Elizabeth Denneau effortlessly cavorts from fashion to paint to mixed media collage, to ceramic sculpture, and back again, without missing one single, syncopated beat. Simply put, the girl is good. If her government name doesn't sound familiar, maybe her clothing line does—CandyStrike.

Yes, Elizabeth is the creative mastermind behind the uber retro, gothgirl meets skater chick clothing line CandyStrike. She is also one of the founders of what local Tucsonans celebrate every fall—Tucson Fashion Week. And while many of us have ooh'd and aah'd over her clothing, it is her artwork that literally takes your breath away.

A particularly striking piece is that of a curvy black woman wearing a crown made of fried chicken, hot sauce skulls and roses, with alligator heads dripping blood from their teeth for shoulder pads. It is currently unnamed, but for the sake of this article we'll call it "Do Not Underestimate." It seems fitting given Elizabeth's vision for her work going forward.

I asked her, as I asked all creatives in this piece, how her work will influence creatives going forward – specifically Black creatives.

"I hope it gives them inspiration to share their stories. The important narratives that often get dismissed due to fear or distorted for propaganda," she says.

"I also decided that my own subjects would feature people of color and minorities in general. The contemporary art world is still saturated with Western-European ideals and subjects, I don't need to add to that. My hope is that as I focus my works on the rich narratives of minorities that they will be able to see themselves better represented in the art world and be inspired to create their own works. I'm not interested in creating patrons, I'm interested in creating other artists."

It's not just the ladies running the show though. How could we forget the men; these beacons of light, strength and power who reside in our community.

While it sometimes seems like our justice system is more content with returning a Black man to the earth, rather than simply letting him be free on this earth, these next two young men have proven that they refuse to go gently into the dying of the light.

Jaca Zulu

Rapper Jaca Zulu raps consciously, and has a thing for metaphors like I have a thing for gin. It's an insatiable love affair.

"I love putting words together, dropping clever rhyme schemes, double entendres and such. It's like building a puzzle. Even more complex when making a song," he says.

His very first piece was a one-page poem in response to the terror attacks of Sept. 11. A friend offered to buy it from him to rap it, but he decided to try it himself, and thus, Jaca Zulu the rapper was born. He didn't start with rap and poetry though. As the son of a singer/songwriter/playwright mother, Jaca's first brush with stardom was as gang-banger in one of his mom's plays, telling people to stop the violence.

If you see him perform now, you discover his brand of wordplay is not something they teach you in high school—it is his God-given right. Unless lyrical foreplay is an elective, in which case he got an A++. His lyrics read like a Thesaurus, and his moves on stage remind you of an even more stylized version of Drake's "Hotline Bling," except when you watch Jaca do it, you find yourself mimicking his groove instead of pointing and laughing.

"I like to consider the complex connections of life, and express my process to whoever wants to listen", he says.

"My modern-day influences are Common and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), but my sound is experimentation."

If he considers his sound to be experimentation, I have a feeling he'll be in the lab for a long time to come, and I am here for it.

Anton Russell

Sliding right on down the creative spectrum is Anton Russell, founder and host of Mamaz Milk.

Mamaz Milk is a sanctuary for the Black woman who feel judged, hated, misunderstood, angry, but also loved, cherished, supported, adored and needed.

"When I consider a compassionate human being who wants the same good for themselves as everyone else—no more, no less—I picture them [Black women]. When I recall the struggle for justice and consider who has dealt with that delay longest ... when a semblance of justice is served, and I realize who is dealt the tail end of it—I remember her," Russell says.

This is especially critical for Russell, as he is dad to three girls, and fiancée to Alexis, the woman he says pushes him to always be better than he is on his best day. His oldest daughter, Aysha taught him about the indomitable, unbreakable spirit of the Black woman. This woman has also taught him the power of forgiveness. He says his middle daughter Olivia taught him what it means to have compassion, and love unconditionally, while baby Luz already has a depth in her eyes that takes his breath away.

"The anticipation of her birth was decimated by the sheer enormity of its beauty," Russell says.

Mamaz Milk is for his fiancée. It is for his daughters. It is for the women who will surround these women, as they all go forward into this light together, supporting each other, supporting the world.

"She [the Black woman] cares about all of us so deeply, and we can speak about her divinity without ever making her superior. Her concern for others welfare will always cause her to seek to make an impact externally," he adds. "Mamaz Milk will seek to impact her. Mamaz Milk will make sure that she and her wellness is the focus."

Facebook @Mamazmilk

Tucson Weekly contributor Adiba Nelson's piece on Tucson Black creatives originally aired on NPR's Arizona Spotlight on Feb. 17 in honor of Black History Month. You can hear it at

Adiba Nelson

Adiba Nelson is a local word addict, advocating for disability rights and body love/size acceptance. If she looks familiar, you may have seen more of her on stage as a local burlesquer. She is also the author of the children's book Meet ClaraBelle Blue, and is currently working on creating the series to follow...