Public Skool: Opening a door to hip hop and inclusion

If you Google “hip hop Kalamazoo” to see when you might enjoy some of your favorite music at one of your favorite venues, well, you’re likely to end up planning a road trip instead. 

Daniel J. May wants to change that. 

“I decided to create the events I wanted to see in this city,” says May. “That became my goal instead of waiting for it to happen.”

And he’s created his own company, Public Skool, to partner with local venues and create events that will appeal to a broad range of people. He wants to offer local events where people with what he describes as multiple differences, including LGBT folks, feel accepted.

Instead of operating as a traditional promoter, May pitches an idea to local bars and pubs and then works with them to bring it about, drawing on his finance and branding skills. 

He’s helped put together an event which launched Oct. 7.

A specialty cocktail created for Sunday Skool. Photo courtesy Public SkoolMay says he began talking with Harvey’s on the Mall some time ago and they became excited about the prospects of working together. 

Their collaboration brought about a whole new Sunday menu (including signature cocktails) and a series of 18-and-over day parties that started during WMU homecoming weekend and is scheduled to continue through the end of May 2019.

Sunday Skool, the name for the ongoing day parties, plays off the name May has given his entertainment venture. It also features a mixture of music including Old School ’90s hip hop and new music.

“People will party and have a great time on Sunday and still be able to go to work the next day,” May says. “Sunday’s going to have a different vibe.”

Also in the works is the Chicken and Beer Festival at Arcadia Brewing Co. at a date to be determined next spring. There’s a lot of chicken and beer planned for this one.

For $45 you can get VIP admission for which you get “all you can eat” wings and fries, two drink vouchers, access to a VIP reception area, and 3 p.m. access to the festival site—one hour before those with general admission. General admission is $25 and comes with a pound of wings, a side of fries, and one drink voucher. 

Of course, there is also the more than 20 craft beers on tap at Arcadia Brewing Co.

The idea for the Chicken and Beer festival was to broaden the appeal of craft beer, May says. Pairing chicken and beer was a natural for him. “I have no problem with that combo,” May says with a laugh.

Daniel May was ecouraged to get into the special event business after successfully creating an event for 97 family members in Atlanta. Photo courtesy Public Skool May is gradually building his new business. He also is a freelance accountant and the income he makes from that business currently subsidizes his event startup. 

He was encouraged to try his hand at creating special events by his success in pulling together a gathering for 97 family members in Atlanta and other similar events. They, in turn, led to a pub crawl, his first event in Kalamazoo in June.

Public Skool’s motto is making culture happen and its first event celebrated Juneteeth, the observance of the end of slavery everywhere in the United States—June 19, 1865. That was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had become official on Jan. 1, 1863. The enslaved were freed when Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with the news that the war had ended.

The link behind the holiday and a pub crawl? A belief in freedom for anybody and everybody, May says.

Overall, the community is more than ready for the type of entertainment he is putting together, May says.

“People have been asking one another why is there no hip hop and R&B in local venues. There has long been that kind of interest,” he says. It takes overcoming negative attitudes.

“I’ve seen first-hand the perception of the hip hop and R&B crowd. That they are violent. Venues don’t want X-crowd.”
Daniel May and friends at a Public Skool event. Photo courtesy Public Skool.But people of color want to have a good time and they don’t want to have to drive to Grand Rapids for it. When that’s the only option they go to other city’s events and those take place without incident, May says.

After graduating from Western Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in finance, management, and economics he spent a number of years in travels that took him to more than 20 cities. He saw Boston, New Orleans, Miami, St. Louis, and cities overseas. In each of them, he sought out entertainment he says he found a lot.

He decided to return to Kalamazoo for many reasons. “This community has provided me with great opportunities in my career and academics, and I’ve created great relationships here,” May says. “This is where all of my close friends are.” 

He also loves the size of the community because it makes it easy to see those important people on a regular basis. 

Even so, there have been many times when he did not feel welcome in downtown Kalamazoo. “There is an image of inclusion without being inclusive,” he says. So people of color tend to avoid downtown venues in favor of private events. 

“It’s time for a change,” May says. 

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Read more articles by Kathy Jennings.

Kathy Jennings is the managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.