His name alone is a Denver institution. At times, it seems that more people have heard his name than can actually recognize his face.
Yet, Jeff Fard, better known as “Brother Jeff” continues to reinvent himself, his brand and his activism. Not only is Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center on Welton Street somewhat of a landmark and organizing hub for Denver’s African-American community, his daily vlog, “The Free-Think Zone” has become a gathering place for activists and intellectuals alike.
There has been a void of honest broadcasting in black Denver. This void was left when the local urban radio station, KDKO, went out of business back in 2001. Dr. Daddio was the man in charge of programming, playing quotes from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and dropping timely black history facts all year round.
Broadcasting from Five Points, the historic heart of Denver’s African-American community, it grounded our media in the very neighborhood of the people it gave voice to.
Brother Jeff is standing in the gap, and gaining momentum. Sitting down with Jeff in his Five Points office, his demeanor was calm, and his logic was simple. I asked him why he created the Free Think Zone.
“We’ve been having critical conversations as part of our community since day one,” he says. “In terms of the new technology, it’s been at least a couple of years now.”
Those years have served Jeff well.
Over time, the Free Think Zone has become increasingly hard to ignore. Politicians running for office now make a stop at the Welton headquarters, and with good reason. The Free-Think Zone may have partially shaped the outcome of Denver’s last mayoral election.
When candidate Jamie Giellis was on The Free Think Zone, she was caught flat footed by a direct, yet culturally impactful question. Free-Think host Shay Johnson, otherwise known as “Shay-J” simply asked Giellis the meaning of the acronym NAACP.
Giellis not only didn’t know, but her fumbling of the answer came off to many as disingenuous. Brother Jeff sees it more graciously, saying Giellis was simply “disconnected.”
Either way, the fallout was immediate and politically disastrous. Mayor Michael Hancock’s reelection campaign picked up the sound bite and ran with it. People who didn’t even watch the episode had sudden doubts about her cultural competency, and the divisions in the community deepened.
Wherever a person fell on the issue of Giellis’ cultural competency, one thing was blatantly clear: Brother Jeff and the Free Think Zone are a force to be reckoned with.
Word must have reached presidential candidate Tom Steyer. His appearance on the Free Think Zone ushered in a new era of prominence for Brother Jeff. This was a coup, and an apparent media chess move.
To get a national candidate into a small studio in Five Points seemed to border magical as the community watched, dumbfounded at the magnitude of the interview. Steyer came off as polished and well-versed on the issues affecting black life. Though Steyer was impressive, I was curious as to how Jeff Fard pulled it off.
“We have a norm with our particular show,” he said. “That is, we don’t reach out. Particularly with candidates. Candidates have to reach in.”
In other words, they don’t have a staff that reaches out to people. He says the politicians know that the people who watch the show are generally voters, and it behooves them to make an appearance.
Jeff Fard’s impact is more than just the podcast. Brother Jeff’s cultural center off of 28th and Welton is also a huge hub for the community. Painted neon pink with a billboard of Candi CdeBaca, it’s impossible to miss.
Every Saturday, he opens the doors for black entrepreneurs to sell their products on what is now officially being called “Black Dollar Saturdays.” Everything from vegan tacos to start-up graphic novels can be found in the walls of the establishment.
Recently, the culture has picked up a Spoken Word open mic. On the second and fourth Thursdays at 8 p.m., “The Renaissance” open mic gives voice to both veteran and novice poets alike.
Recently, a mixed audience filled the house with hard-core poetry heads from Denver’s urban slam scene, to some neighborhood newcomers drifting in to hear a good word.
However, as it stands now, Brother Jeff’s Free-Think Zone is the entity in his empire set to make the most waves in Colorado and beyond. It has that edge that made Arsenio Hall stand out in the 90’s.
Tongue-in-cheek, raw, and no-holds-barred commentary in real time keeps every guest honest and on their toes. The spirit of the program can be summed up in the trigger alert that Jeff reads at the beginning of every show, and can recite verbatim off the top of his head: “You are entering a Free-Think zone. If you are not willing to be exposed to other points of view, tune out now, and do not read the comments.”
You’ve been warned, Colorado. Tune in!
Theo Wilson is a poet, speaker, activist and CNN contributor. Learn more about him at TheoWilson.net.
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