United States of Mind, Joshua Strodtman

“We are about unity and community.” — Joshua Strodtman

United States of Mind is a cultural utopia. People rich and poor, old and young, white and black come together to play music, read poetry, dance to African beats. Everybody is equal. There’s no sign-in list for the readings. Even the biggest name of the bunch — open mic night host T.J. Reynolds — is humble and kindhearted. How can all this be? Don’t ask. Just be happy that it is.

Located at the rebounding commercial corner of 40th and Boulevard streets, USOM is a community center for the neighborhood and the whole city. Butler-Tarkington’s inner-city kids voted USOM a “Community Treasure,” an honor its organizers cherish.

Reynolds, Helger Oomkes, Joshua Strodtman and Ike Boyd Jr. work with several volunteers to offer a weekly drum circle, a poetry reading and a weekly live music event. The group, in various combinations, also visits schools as “Positive Repercussions” — getting students excited about music.

“We go in with our drums and give students a one-hour slice of culture,” Oomkes says. “That may be all they get. And, by the end of the hour, the students and teachers are moving in rhythm together. The barriers are broken down.”

USOM’s immense value comes in how it works to help children, create bridges of diversity and generally make people feel good about who they are. “We are about unity and community,” Strodtman says. “When it comes down to it, we are all human beings. We all have to share and love each other.”

Boyd, who also coaches boxing at Christamore House, likes to bring hardened inner-city kids to music or poetry events at USOM. Suddenly, here they are sitting next to white kids from the suburbs. “It’s a beautiful thing,” Boyd says.

Before USOM opened two years ago, all of the organizers enjoyed the joy of reaching out to young people on their own. “We all experienced the connection, the magic,” Strodtman says. “That’s why we had to put USOM on the map. When we go out to a school and perform, the show is over and we leave. At United States of Mind, the magic is always there.”

— Jim Walker