The Last Gold Leaf Blog Post for MHAM

When I was sixteen my parents bought be my first guitar as an Easter present. I never thought of myself as a musician. I was the kind of kid that spent endless hours locked away in my room, pencil in hand, drawing feverishly, seeking desperately to express the fanciful worlds in my head into images on a page. In fact, even as I began writing songs I never imagined I would seek to make a career out of music.

 

Picking up that guitar unlocked an urgency in me. I found that others could identify with the loneliness and depression that informed my music. And that made us all a little less lonely, the days seem just a little bit brighter. I was hooked and there was no looking back. I set out to find that connection on a larger and larger scale. 

 

If I were to try to sum up my goal as a songwriter in one word I think it would be “fearless”. I believe my role as an artist is to bring light to those dark places in our psyche that we become afraid to talk about. The unpretty things: addiction, poverty, hunger, betrayal. It seems as if our culture is almost engineered to isolate ourselves from one another. But it’s in recognizing our griefs, our failures, in forgiving that we can tear down the walls we built originally to protect us. The walls we found cut us off from our lifelines.

 

I have seen friends, family members, lovers, strangers in deep hurt. In need of help. Become helpless. But I believe in the power of music to heal. To foster community. To open up wounds to draw the infection out. I seek to bring to the surface the ugliness so we can accept one another. 

 

That’s why I reached out to the Mental Health Association of Minnesota (MHAM). Music can raise the questions, but MHAM has the resources to help heal the wounds. None of us can do it alone. According to the National Institute on Mental Health’s website, In 2012 18.6 percent of adults ages 18 and above were diagnosed with mental illnesses. That’s almost 2 out of every 10 people. And that’s just the people seeking help.

 

If you or a loved one you know have questions, seek help

 

Cheers, 

Derrick Keith

A Short Personal History of Being Young, Black, Male in America

I figured out people treat me different because they’re scared of me. People I’ve never met. Simply because I’m Black.

When I was a little boy of only six or seven I had large bright brown eyes, a dazzling smile and an infectious laugh. I remember strangers and other children would touch my hair although my parents kept it short. I was outgoing and loved to read and would make friends wherever I went. Everyone would always comment on how intelligent and polite I was.

As I became a teenager, I did not realize it, but secretly, something was happening to me. Strangers were not so easy with their smiles, other kids were not so friendly, and adults were not so kind. I was becoming a man. A Black Man. And people could see it in my emerging features: in my long, athletic legs, the curly hair on my chin. The harmlessness of my childhood had begun to shed and I was turning into something culturally feared. Something mysterious. Something taboo. But no one told me.

But then, no one needed to. Teachers, other parents, coaches, they all treated me different from when I was a kid. I would constantly be underestimated, counted out. There were secret rules I needed to follow, ways I was to be or people would get uncomfortable. Some created by pop culture, some by the lingering poison of ignorance and racism. Some kids were so bold as to explain them to me. Some teachers so obtuse as to leave me out of activities.

There was a time I was cornered in a locker room, having just showered, in nothing but a towel. Two white kids, fully clothed, asked me if it was true if Black People have an extra muscle. I asked where they heard this and they explained it’s what enables us to run faster and jump higher. I laughed it off and said “I’m darker than you. I’m not a different species”. It did not occur to me until after I was clothed and out of that room, that they likely expected me drop my towel and confirm that myth and a second.

I learned even clearer the fear that surrounded me when I became old enough to drive. I could be pulled over at a moments notice in Iowa driving the speed limit, or sitting in the passenger seat of a friends car. I joke with my friends that I was pulled over while I was parked. And I was. And nearly arrested. Engine off, reading comic books outside the wrong Dominos Pizza. It’s a long story…

A few years later AP news reported that Black people in Iowa were arrested 15 to every one white person. The 2010 census stated that Black people made up less than two percent of Iowa’s population. You don’t have to be good at math; institutionalized racism is alive.

Everyone grows up and looses their boyish charm. But it was only a few years back that I finally pieced together that people fear me. Before they meet me, they are certain they know who I am. And they are convinced who I am is a threat to them.

So I cannot say I am shocked about what happened to Trayvon Martin. It could very well be me that was shot and killed, my killer acquitted. I understand all too well how it happened.

I’m not asking for social justice or a different verdict. There may be people upset at me for saying this, but I don’t care about the trial. My sole interest in this is in understanding.

You cannot judge your neighbor no matter who they are. To do so is to rob both him and yourself of the opportunity to grow and become better people. We can change the way we see each other and give each other the chance to show our individuality. But until we all recognize the prejudice in our hearts, there will be more violent deaths, more misunderstanding, and more resentment.

It’s understandable if you were upset by the death and the trial, but its much more valuable to learn, change and to be better.

Change starts with you. If you’re like me and think we can be better, pass this along.

a poem about bullying

houses built on houses

that lead up to the sand

inside the children huddled

hoping the moonlight brings them warmth

 

hid away in closet spaces

their eyes search for the corners

where no one speaks their name

because attention brings with it shame

 

uncertain that their lungs should fill with air

when life seems to attempt

to shake their tiny hands

like raindrops from his coat

 

men and women like skyscrapers

that bend above their heads

peering in with glassy eyes

confuse youth with vitality

 

sheets sullied of their innocence

gods robbed of their splendor by the lack of worshipful praise

we offer canned responses

but our love, it will never reach them

 

so long as we allow the broken to break them

so long as we let the weak come to steal

what, so early in life, is planted in such shallow soil

and when stolen, mismanage our sky scraper hands to replant.

 

your child that is grieving

they only hear the rain

they’re asking for forgiveness

for the sins they now own

given them by the thief that stole their

 

innocence.

 

The Bad Habit Of Artistic Pride

“Some artists will cringe at what they created early in their artistic lives. Yet every song, every wardrobe choice was part of a deeply satisfying conversation they were having.” – Dan Haseltine

dan haseltine is a member of the band jars of clay which i have been following since before i started playing music. it could be said that the reason i ever wished to play guitar was their self-titled album that i listened to for the first time when i was thirteen years old. my friend kelly packer (whose last name is no longer packer) lent the album to me. their lyrics and melodies took hold of me in a way no other album has ever done in my life. jars of clay is a band deeply and hopelessly entrenched in the contemporary christian culture. a landscape that they helped in shaping.

as i consider creating my career, my space in the music scene, my brand and what impact i wish to have, dan’s words hit home. as a believer i always have this burning sensation at the back of my head when i write and play songs and perform in bars. “is this the way i should be doing this?”, “i should be writing more music about jesus”, “it’s my ego that causes me to do this”, and sillier notions. but engaging that aspect of my music exclusively, a place where every song is about jesus or worship, which is what contemporary christian music requires you to do, seems like it would be forced and disingenuous.

shortly after i began playing guitar i began leading worship at the christian school i went to high school in. it was fun, i was capable, and a lot of what i enjoyed about it was the challenge of playing guitar. but i quickly learned that i did not have a heart for leading people in worship. that while i am playing music the furthest thing from my mind is a worshipful heart, and my most immediate concern is getting things right, and sounding good. it was here i first realized i felt awkward and insincere when attempting to help people during worship. so i quickly abandoned playing other people’s music and chord charts for writing and composing my own music. music i could sing sincerely that meant something to me.

looking back on the music i first began composing, i’m not ashamed of a single line or a single note. it might be a bad habit, but i’m proud of every song i’ve written. when you’re in a band and you’re writing songs it’s inevitable that something gets made fun of. songwriting is such an intimate and sentimental thing and intimacy and sentiment are not things groups of guys can take seriously for very long. our hearts are foolish things, and that is one thing i love about music is to help my heart not feel so foolish and alone.

jars of clay is a band that is finding itself in a place where it’s trying to evolve artistically and rebel against the expectations put on their band by their “genre”. i find myself in a similar place deciding where to begin building my home. right now i’ve erected a hut in the woods.

i want to move into the city.