The United States of Mind is the only place of its kind in Indianapolis. Whether it’s a Saturday afternoon drum class, a Friday night poetry and music open mic, or a Sunday night drum circle, this colorful space pulsates with creative energy. Even the sidewalk outside along 40th St. radiates upbeat attitude. From drummers to poets to the down-on-their luck drunks who sometimes visit, everyone gets happier the closer they come to the front door.
T.J. Reynolds will be celebrating one year of poetry and music at the USOM on Aug. 29.
Despite the fact that no drum classes are going on, several regulars teach rhythms to a group of neighborhood kids on a summer Saturday afternoon. While the instruction usually cost seven dollars, T.J. Reynolds — one of the trio which runs the place — says they charge on a sliding scale. The main commodity at the USOM — a home for music, poetry and artistic expression at 40th and Boulevard – is “the vibe,” Josh Stradman explains, as he shakes thick yellow dreadlocks off his face. Along with T.J. and Ike Boyd, Josh is a founder and organizer at the USOM. Celebrating a milestone On Friday, Aug. 29, the USOM is throwing a party to celebrate its first anniversary. The reading starts at 9 p.m. T.J. — the half-comedian, half high-energy hip-hop poet host of the Friday open mic each week — says he’s only missed three readings in the entire first year. And he’s excited about the milestone. “This place has given me a lot, given us a lot,” T.J. says. “We want to have a nice celebration for everyone who’s been part of it and anyone else who wants to start.” The evening will even be recorded for later CD listening. “I just want to hold onto every moment here,” T.J. says, “because so much that happens here is gold.” For a place operating on a slim budget in a city where creative businesses come and go, the year milestone means plenty. It shows that the USOM is doing something people want, that people need. Ike isn’t surprised the place is still going strong. “Cool comes and goes. It’s like a fad. We know that this isn’t just a cool place to go for most people who come here. It’s a release valve,” Ike says. He’s an accomplished poet with a flair for the dramatic when he steps to the mic and a friendly, welcoming demeanor offstage. “People come here on Friday night to spread the love, to give up themselves and feel free. Everyone needs an outlet. Everyone needs this vibe.” A blessing and a blossoming Some come to the readings, which don’t even have the formal structure of a sign-in list, frightened of reading or singing in public. That soon changes. “This has been a real blessing for me and for a lot of people,” Ike says of the USOM. “This is our training ground. The seeds were planted a year ago. They are blossoming now.” On a given night, visitors will hear readers and musicians of various ages and cultural backgrounds step to the mic and share everything from raps to rants to love poems to traditional love songs. “Everyone is on stage here, it’s about giving everyone their chance to shine,” says Josh, a drummer now trying his hand at poetry. Another key to the USOM’s success comes from the organizers’ ability to get along. “We don’t get caught into our egos,” Ike says. “We’re not going to let ourselves get in the way. We’re not going to say ‘this is my spot.’ This place is bigger than us. It’s bigger than any individual. And it’s growing.” Drums are part of what sets the USOM experience apart from other poetry readings. During intermissions, the house band — which includes T.J. and Josh — pounds out an infectious beat. Some in the audience get up from the tables and chairs and dance. All are filled with the beat. “The drums disarm everyone,” Ike says. “They all feel it. People can’t deny the consciousness when the drums start.” Flooding the city with drums In an unassuming brown storefront, the USOM is a home for free poetic and musical expression by night and a world-class drum shop by day. It offers classes in traditional African and Middle Eastern drumming, and community drum and dance circles. The USOM is a genuinely altruistic establishment. With drum camps and community outreach programs, they take their drums, poems, energy and out into the city. The founders of the USOM considered their task of creating and maintaining this sacred space a duty and a privilege. After the closing of the Sambuza Hut, a restaurant in the neighborhood that hosted a weekly drum circle, the founders knew something had to be done. Joshua visited the Tuba Café, a neighborhood bookshop and café — in the space the USOM now fills — that would soon close its doors. Joshua noticed a door to the space next door was open and walked through it. There, he found a huge empty space and a free tai chi class in session. He knew immediately it would be perfect his new kind of drum shop. Traditional African drumming is taking off. Joshua noticed this trend a few years ago when working at The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars – one of the few longtime places in the city to buy drums. A drummer himself, Joshua was frustrated with the quality of drums in the shop. He wanted to open a drummers’ drum shop, one that offered the best quality and the best service. So he did. Having traveled all over the world, the proprietors at the USOM know good drums. They know what they’re made of and how to make them. And that’s just what they do: importing the best materials from Africa to make custom drums. With connections in Senegal, The Ivory Coast, and Guinea and a team of local drum makers the drums available at USOM are among the best in the world. “We want to flood this city with drums,” Reynolds says. The rhythm of the city That’s just what is happening on this Saturday afternoon in the heart of the city. With the front door thrown open, the music escapes to the street — rhythms ranging from simple to amazingly complex. Everyone in the drum circle, from experienced player to novice, fits in somewhere. As the drummers pound out their rhythms, break-dancers go nuts in the carpeted middle of the circle. This is a diverse group matched with beaming smiles and concentrated faces as they work to keep the beat. The vibe flows through all them, through every part of this place and out to the sidewalk in front and the city beyond it.