In 2010 I co-founded Totem Star with Thaddeus Turner so that young artists would have a safe and encouraging space to go to record music, perform, and build community. We started off as a mobile operation, packing our recording studio into a suitcase and setting it up across the city at spaces like Rainier Community Center, the Northwest African American Museum, the Metrocenter YMCA downtown, and Aki Kurose Middle School Academy. What felt real good was that young people with dreams of recording their own songs in a studio was now possible. What didn't feel good was when our contracts ended, we wouldn't see the kids anymore, and we'd hear about them getting locked up or, in a few cases, read their obituaries. Something had to change.

The youth needed a space. When the streets and even the stress at home was just too much, what they needed was a sanctuary to be relax, be creative, and be around a community of positive people. In need of something more solid and sustainable, we made the move to Youngstown Cultural Arts Center and opened our doors to the community. With the Thelma Dewitty Theater next door to our recording studio, we could also host the open mics and showcases we had always been talking about.

Today our youth record label has three core programs: The Studio, The Stage, and The Story. Young artists get to book after school recording sessions, perform at events they help produce, and receive mentorship from touring artists and music industry professionals. It's love, respect,  and family vibes every day at the studio, and the transformation in the youth is daily practice. Check out the Totem Star official website to read artist bios, listen to some dope music, and bask in the beauty of youth culture. The youth always remind us to "respect the vibes." We all should.


Photos by Avi Loud