Published July 7, 2021 11:21am.
Story by Mary Martin. Photos by Jason Chinnock.
What does the growth of a city sound like? For Dallas, it sounds like a triple LP, spinning in Mavs blue, filled to the brim with songs that speak to justice, unity, and a new light. Artists who know Dallas-Fort Worth as home, whether rooted or adopted, have joined voices, not only to create music, but to create a wave of change that begins with neighborhood nonprofits.
The Truth To Power Project will launch a self-titled digital release on Friday, July 30, and every dollar the project makes—from vinyl, streaming, or the Badu World Market branded gear—is being donated to four community organizations in North Texas. Music Forward Foundation, For Oak Cliff, Joppy Momma’s Farm, and Young Leaders, Strong City were chosen as the beneficiaries because of their commitment to Black leadership and direct community service.
“This album is meant to be a soundtrack for empowerment,” says Jeff “Skin” Wade. Skin is best known for The Ben and Skin Show, now on 97.1 in Dallas, as well as his years as a commentator for the Dallas Mavericks. The Truth To Power Project comes from Eastwood Music Group, a label he started with Luke Sardello, co-owner of Josey Records. And every artist came to the project as a way to give back and create change. “I don’t see it as a compilation record, I see it as a soundtrack that is automatically unified by artists who care about the same things,” says Skin. “Sometimes there’s a protest song and sometimes there’s a love song and sometimes there’s a philosophical song, and then there are fun instrumentals and different kinds of sounds, but they’re all rooted in that spirit of wanting to do something creative that makes a difference.”
The Truth To Power Project album includes “Like a Ship,” an opening track from two soul singers hailing from Fort Worth—Leon Bridges and Keite Young. The Black Pumas, Sarah Jaffe, Flowerchild, and even the Dallas String Quartet contributed music to the project. Local favorite, Abraham Alexander rounds out the third LP with a fresh cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
Maleke O’Ney not only sang background vocals on “Like a Ship,” she also introduced the group to Joppy Momma’s Farm, where she has dedicated time as a volunteer. Originally from Panama City, Florida, then moving to Atlanta as a musician, Maleke fell in love with Dallas during a visit several years ago, and decided to make North Texas her new home.
“Once I moved out here to Dallas I started working on some urban farm projects, and I ended up getting introduced to Kimberly High, who is the farm director out at Paul Quinn College,” says Maleke. “She told me her vision of what she wanted to do in Joppa, one of the last recognized freedman towns in South Dallas. Joppa is in the middle of a federally declared food desert, and visiting that neighborhood, you can see where the inequities lie.” Kimberly shared her vision for a community garden and Maleke jumped at the opportunity to help with Joppy Mama’s Farm.
“I’ve always been a community advocate, and I’m a health and wellness nut,” Maleke says. “I care about making sure the environment is taken care of and protected, and all of those things come together working with Joppy Mama’s Farm. It’s just amazing how things have aligned. To allow Joppy Mama’s farm to be one of the recipients of the funds that the Truth To Power Project brings in is an amazing blessing. I’m just grateful to have played a small part in it and able to give back to the community in a very meaningful way, and from a very meaningful place.”
Another nonprofit organization benefiting from the Truth To Power Project is For Oak Cliff. Led by Taylor Toynes and Xavier Henderson, For Oak Cliff is focused on four pillars of generational social change: education, advocacy, community building, and the arts. The work is centered in the 75216 zip code that For Oak Cliff calls a “superblock,” with programs like GED prep courses, neighborhood park development, and their annual back to school festival.
As For Oak Cliff builds out a new 10-acre campus and a building that previously housed the Moorland YMCA, there are plans for a new recording studio, strengthening the voices of young artists in the Oak Cliff neighborhood. “Oak Cliff is the capital of Dallas,” Xavier says, giving credit to a long tradition of arts and innovation. “We love the model of this project because it sets a strong precedent for philanthropy in the city.”
Not only have local musicians and producers come together to raise funds for Black-led causes, but quick support from the Dallas Mavericks gave the Truth To Power Project the capital needed to get off the ground. Ivy Awino, also known as DJ Poison Ivy, is known for setting the perfect musical stage at Mavs games and events, but is also now serving as Senior Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility. When Skin first came to Ivy and Gail O’Bannon, who serves as the Dallas Mavericks VP of Diversity and Inclusion, with the idea of a creative endeavor combining local musicians and local causes, they immediately saw how the Mavs could step in to help.
“We’re a year into our Mavs Take Action Initiative, which is deeply rooted in the pledge to listen, learn, and unite our DFW communities specifically to address racial inequities and disparities, promote social justice, and to drive sustainable change,” Ivy explains. “Our initial pledge was a minimum $5 million investment over three years, and we’re happy to say we have surpassed that in year one.” The initiative also pledged 10,000 employee volunteer hours, digging deep into a culture of generosity led by Mavericks CEO, Cynt Marshall.
“Over at the Mavs, ACTION is an acronym that stands for advocacy, communication, training, investment, outreach, and noise,” Ivy says. “The noise category is the bucket where we boldly promote change and encourage others to do the same through leadership and the arts. So, naturally, the Truth To Power Project fits in this bucket by checking all of those boxes.” With an initial donation of $25,000, the Mavs gave the Truth to Power Project a jumpstart on studio and production fees.
Across the project, there are hopes for growth in other cities and partnerships with other NBA teams. “I think we are in a very unique space as an organization and the NBA as a league, and anything is possible,” Ivy says. “The model for activism and social responsibility isn’t cut and dry anymore. I think it opens up the conversation for anyone with an idea. Music is my background, and the arts are such a vehicle for social change, and not just music—visual arts, theater arts—we are expanding our understanding about the place of art in the pursuit of social change.”
Ivy, Skin, and all the artists involved in the Truth To Power Project are dedicated to empowering local artists and the organizations that are strengthening communities from the ground up. “This album speaks to the nature of the true diversity of this city,” Ivy says. “It tells a story of Dallas in a way that hasn’t been done in the recent past. For the Mavs, the front of our jerseys say Dallas, but how can we really represent all that Dallas is and all the people that live here?”
That question rings in each song on this summer’s Truth To Power album, poetically calling out the systems that have caused division and calling in the community that is bringing change and unity. “Ultimately it’s about finding ways to care about people that aren’t like you,” Skin says. “There are structures in place to teach us not to do that, teaching us to be afraid of people who aren’t like us, but when it comes to sports and music, all of that goes out the window. When it’s time to pull together you suddenly see how alike you are.”
To listen to the Truth To Power Project album, you can pick up the set of vinyl LPs at Josey Records, or wait for the digital release on streaming platforms on July 30. You can also support the project by purchasing branded merch or making a donation at truthtopowerproject.com.