The best New Year’s Eve advice for entering 2024 is this: Do not be hypnotized, mesmerized, or distracted into believing what defines San Jose as special is the sweet/savory stew bubbling in Silicon Valley’s smart, hi-tech crockpot. Instead, bump past that culinary alliteration whose worst flavors are capitalistic greed, and select an alternative: a cast-iron skillet in which the rich culture and eclectic eccentricities and genius that comes from San Jose artists, small business owners and nonprofit organizations mix and mingle.
Composed of folks who unite to give, share and express kindness as a commodity, they’re not pie-in-the-sky operations. Together, they are the foundation ensuring the city remains diverse, vibrant and fiscally sustainable.
An article highlighting a handful of thought-leading individuals and organizations offering both good things and good deeds? Honestly, so many examples rose up during the curatorial process that it could become a regular feature.
An ongoing spotlight aimed toward the good in our community stands in contrast to typical, pervasive, dire news warnings. Boosting civic pride might even incentivize a few folks to embark on their own courageous and innovative paths toward generosity. Read a few words from an exclusive interview with former 49er Ronnie Lott, and applaud his and other journeys. Jump out of the take/keep crockpot and join the cast-iron give/share team. Let’s enter 2024 with hearts and minds centered on kindness.
Launched in September 2023 by the four-time Super Bowl champion and Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Lott and renowned percussionist and Elevate Oakland co-founder Sheila E, the music education and emerging artists program was started by a group of friends who believe in teams and the power of music.
The kickoff event Oct. 29 at the Guild Theater in Menlo Park filled the concert hall with the brilliant sounds of rising young artists from Oakland School for the Arts, GLIDE Memorial Church, San Francisco Community Music Center, Enriching Lives Through Music, Blue Bear School of Music and SFJAZZ. Arguably, nothing projects “potential” at higher decibels than that showcase of young talent. Completing a back-and-forth conversation—familiar to any jazz musician—is Follow The Music’s “committed to mentorship” reply as evidenced in their mission statement and programs. Included in addition to special events and performances is the Artist Network being developed in partnership with local arts schools and organizations to identify young students with talent. A perpetual work-in-progress program is an Advisory Board: elite, professional artists who will build an ecosystem for musicians and young people interested in the arts and offer mentorship related to touring, recording, concert promotion, production, finding agents and managers, and more. The fourth, growing branch of FTM are partnerships with concert promoters, venues, sports teams, arts organizations, labels, distributors, media/sponsors, public agencies and others. These organizations will provide vital connections for young artists to access promotion, education and performance opportunities.
“When I think of coaching young people, one of the great things you have to think about is what’s inside their soul. The hardest part is connecting to the soul. You get to understand the challenges, the heartaches, the ups and downs that they have in their life. When we see a person that is having challenges, when you lift them up and give them a shot, give them an opportunity, it’s one of the greatest things you can do. Everybody deserves an opportunity to feel success. Success allows all of us to believe how good we can be. Mentoring young people, you can get to them and impact their lives. That’s why I’m excited to get people to think about music. I know that when I think about it, it provides a way for me to feel good about my soul. We think about more characteristics than what they’re going to learn about the music business. We want people to not only follow (music), we want them to fall in love with it.”
People can support the operation and join the FTM “team” by attending a concert, contributing funds, or exploring active participation by making available art experience, expertise, and skills.
SJ Jazz in a direct response to the Coronavirus pandemic, and in 2021 established the Jazz Aid Fund. Bay Area-based musicians were disproportionately impacted far beyond the initial lockdown period by the restrictions on large, indoor gatherings that seemed to last forever, especially for art lovers. Swift action by the nonprofit had a panel of arts professionals and enthusiasts choose a cohort of artists to support with commissioning grants.
In 2023, with 20 new artists selected (many based in San Jose), the program will result in videos of the artists’ original works available to the public online through the website and on social media. Six artists have been chosen to perform their works in-person at the SJZ Break Room in early 2024. Artists are chosen through recommendations from Bay Area critics, presenters, artists and curators. Notably, since 2021, the fund has provided 100 Bay Area musicians with $130,000 in grants and performance fees. All of the new works from the 2024 cohort will premiere on social media and in The SJZ New Works Fest, Feb-Mar 2024. To participate, pop into the Break Room, donate to the fund and visit the website for updates and to discover other ways to support established, local, professional artists.
Steps away in downtown San Jose across from the Metro offices in SoFA is this lively, Black owned, women owned, sister-run coffee shop. The café’s owners introduce themselves on the website as “Jeronica and Be’Anka. Sisters, bffs, and co-founders. Since we were little girls, coffee has held a special, calming place in our hearts.” The menu includes coffee, tea, an assortment of other beverages, beer, wine, Eats (mostly sweet and ivory waffles) and pastries.
Constructing a bridge beyond a barista counter are initiatives such as Nirvana Soul After Dark with open mics every Thursday and Friday night from 7PM-9PM in Downtown San Jose. Private Events held on the mezzanine in San Jose or atrium at the Cupertino location. Lastly, private and public tours of the Nirvana Soul roastery led by a member of the team tell the founders’ stories that led to roasting their own coffee, demonstrating the shop’s Loring Smart Roaster bean machine, and showing the process of putting joy—and coffee—in your cup.
Fundraisers in the past and recently have largely supported the artist community. To access nirvana, all you have to do is drink coffee, sip wine, or nibble on strawberry lemon macaroons, butter, ham and cheese croissant, sweet potato pie, or vegan blueberry muffins, and we all know that’s easy.
The Halal Mexican restaurant owned by Palestinian and Filipino chef Hisham Abdelfattah began as a food truck in Fremont. Expanding with the restaurant’s first bricks and mortar location in San Jose, chef Hisham instantly connected the community to the impeccably produced Halal menu by participating in a “Giving Back to Gaza” fundraiser during which 50 percent of one day’s sales went to humanitarian aid in the beleaguered territory.
In an interview with ABC7 News, Hisham emphasized that service is number one in running a successful establishment because it creates customers who feel welcome and want to return. “Restaurant (ownership) can be hard if you don’t have empathy for people,” he said.
El Halal Amigos was one of two restaurants (Mirchi Café in Fremont and Dublin also participated) in the two-week fundraiser organized by the business and marketing group Halal Fest. Running Oct. 24 to Nov. 4, Halal Fest CEO Ali Malik said the two Bay Area restaurants originally involved rapidly expanded to 14 restaurants and businesses in California as well as others outside of the state.
The SJ establishing is the fulfillment of the entrepreneurial visions of brewer Felipe Bravo, who comes with a hefty resume and graduate school studies in electrical engineering, and Wendy Neff, an innovator sporting expertise in nutrition, fermenting, and plant-based cuisine after leading the Superfoods program at Facebook headquarters.
The menu is a storytelling, foodie dream, with the provocative “Funk Bowl,” a divine “Full Spread” that includes Fox Tale’s Spring Sunflower Spread, a choice of three ferments served with Firebrand Bread and Frantoio Grove Organic Olive Oil with Herbs, and organic, raw and pickled crudité from Spade & Plow Farm. Beverages, small bites and meal-ender sweets such as Filoli Crumble and House Made Carrot Cake inspire only “yes and again, please.”
What earns the love of community and a place on this year’s list is their continuing promotion and support for artists and creators with whom they work whose projects and activities lean toward social and environmental activism, sustainable construction architecture and measures that ensure future generations have food, and it goes almost without saying, great beer. Special celebrations held throughout the year feature crafts and fine art of local vendors, live music performances with local musicians, spoken word and poetry slams and more. The owners welcome everyone from individuals to small group gatherings.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to bump into San Jose ambassador Cortez at any of the organizations above—or the organizations following this entry. A thought leader and practicing artist in Lowriding history, culture and community, he recently released a debut children’s picture book titled, The ABCs of Lowriding.
Cortez is a digital media artist whose work sculpts and transmits Lowrider images and iconography through a lens of technology that encourages interaction. While working as a Marketing Director at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship of Santa Clara University, he is cataloging an open access digital archive of rare Lowrider print material.
Named one of six 2022 Creative Ambassadors by the City of San Jose, his activities include a series of workshops for youth incorporating digital and traditional media to produce one-of-a-kind sound-reactive artworks around San José’s rich Lowrider culture.
Cortez has a BFA from Santa Clara University and San Jose State University and has been creating Chicano artwork and exploring his cultural identity for more than 20 years.
Sharing Lowrider art and culture taps his nostalgic sensibilities, respect for Chicano heritage and stokes his connection to community. Order a book, follow Cortex on social media, access the Lowrider archive and celebrate a local San Jose artist whose idea of “going to work” includes giving back.
Not only is the city’s venerable museum of art a terrific place to shop and pick up those belated holiday gifts, there are memberships and tickets to exhibitions all year long. In addition to brilliant partnership presentations with other local arts institutions, such as the Institute of Contemporary Art San Jose, the SJMOA has the Dr. Jerry Hiura Next Gen Visual Artist Award that offers scholarships to young visionary artists and supports their artistic practice and goals as they pursue higher education.
The award is open to all high school students in Santa Clara County, with the first prize at $3,000, and second and third of $1,000 each. The theme is “Embracing Identity,” and encourages applicants whose artwork expresses “the essence of who you are and inspires others to embrace their own unique identities.” The deadline for the next round of applications is due Feb. 29, 2024, with the winners announced May 3 at the First Friday Event.
Though not technically a bookstore, the Friends of the San Jose Public Library system are a non-profit, multiple location bookseller. The organization, through book sales and other fundraising activities, is the umbrella over each Friends group that supports the services and programs at their local San Jose community branch library.
Proceeds are given to the libraries to purchase items not covered by city funding, such as programs for adults and children, additions to the collection and holiday decorations. The Martin Luther King Jr. Library located next to San Jose State University holds book sales monthly on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Access and links to information about each Friends group is located at the website (sjpl.org/friends/), with meeting times and book sale events listed in their library branch’s events calendar. Details about how to drop off donations, where to take materials and how to keep printed materials out of landfills adds value to the community-centric mission of the all-volunteer friends groups.
Filling the last-but-never-least position, is a treasured Bay Area musician whose many appearances in San Jose at festivals and concerts have stirred the souls of local residents and visitors to the city.
As an award winning artist who has worked with many of the greatest jazz musicians and organizations in the Bay Area and throughout the world, it struck to the bone when on November 25th she was hospitalized for congestive heart failure and severe asthma. Now at home and engaged in the process of recovery and recuperation, she awaits additional diagnoses and evaluations regarding her heart condition.
The serious events forced her to cancel late 2023 and early 2024 performances, which not only cut into her income, but separated her from her many fans and favorite activity, sharing music.
A GoFundMe campaign is one-quarter of the way to meeting the targeted $100,000 goal to assist with medical bills. Visit her website to receive updates or to learn more and then, join the support team to bring Hall, a Black woman and artist who has given wholeheartedly to the community, back to the stage asap.