In Wake of Son's Death, Jon Daniel Calls for Mental Health Care for Dallas Musicians
Without the musicians, bartenders, and other creatives, Deep Ellum would be empty, Daniel says, and so Dallas as a city needs to support them.
On Jan. 23, four days after his son Jordan Daniel died of a drug overdose, Deep Ellum fixture Jon Daniel decided to make a statement.
“The word started getting out,” Daniel says. “So it’s, ‘OK, I need to put something out there,’ because I don’t want people to start sending me flowers or cards. I want this not to matter, because it does matter; I want to make a statement about artists and music because I know that was super important to [Jordan] and it’s really important to me.”
Daniel says he was nervous to make his grief public at first. He didn’t mean to make Jordan a poster child, but he wanted to give friends and family something concrete to do to honor his memory. Jordan was a musician and music lover who had worked as a porter at The Bomb Factory, so Jon began researching two local music charities.
In the end he turned to Facebook to ask all those concerned to send donations to Oak Cliff music education program La Rondalla and Foundation 45, which offers open group counseling and support to musicians and artists who struggle with substance abuse and mental health issues.
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Daniel hadn’t heard of Foundation 45 before that point. Jordan most likely walked past their weekly meeting at the Independent Bar and Kitchen on his way to work at The Bomb Factory. It’s a situation that the Foundation’s newest board member says he’s heard of before.
“I think a lot of times people find out about these services after the fact,” Dr. Peter Thomas, former lead singer of Slow Roosevelt and psychologist, said. “I hear that story again and again and again, and I think one of the main goals of the Foundation is to really try and make this pre-fact. We want to be something that comes up in people’s mind before they start to move on their urges to suicide or as they start to think about getting sober … we want to be that pre-thought before any of those other thoughts come in, and that’s difficult to do.”
Thomas’ addition to the board is one of many steps the Foundation is currently taking to expand their reach. At their volunteer meeting Feb. 18, Foundation 45 president Anthony Delabano outlined some of the details of the expansion, including the addition of a second weekly group counseling session and the second Deep Ellum Balloon War.
The balloon war is an event that will take place in the fall to raise funds to provide more one-on-one counseling sessions. The Foundation will begin pre-selling tickets at this year’s Deep Ellum Arts Festival April 7-9.
“It’s really important for me [that] our organization [is] also tied in with the community, because the community is also another means of people telling people,” Delabano says. “The subject that we’re dealing with here is not a very friendly subject to have in casual conversation.”
The uncomfortableness of this conversation is exactly why the Foundation throws upbeat fundraisers like balloon wars. Food trucks, vendors and of course water balloons will be on hand at the event and the visitors to Foundation’s booth at the Deep Ellum Arts Festival will get the chance to contribute to a collaborative painting that Delabano hopes to use as a symbol of the organization.
Also under way is the “Coasters and Posters” campaign, a partnership between Foundation 45 and Deep Ellum Brewing Company that will place advertisements encouraging people to start conversations about suicide and addiction at bars across Dallas.
“It’s interesting to watch this grow because when you think about it, and when I think about musicians and bands, this is how I hear about other music, this is how I hear about other bands. You’re out there in the scene and you hear somebody talk about it. You happen to be in a club one night and you see this band or that band and you pass it on word of mouth,” Thomas says. “This is kind of going the same route with that, and it works. At some point it’s not going to be enough, but for right now it’s working.”
This kind of organic conversation and self-policing of the scene is something Jon says he hopes becomes the norm in Dallas’ night life. And being a consummate networker, he hopes he can help spread the word.
“My motivation is because I sort of found my niche here [in Deep Ellum] as just sort of an aging dude who just loves music and I’m a natural networker and schmoozer,” he says. “[I’m] just somebody reminding everybody from top to bottom that there is this thing here that you should know about because you’re surrounded by people having these issues and if you’re not one you know someone who is. Let’s make it so people know enough about this place for people not to think it’s bullshit.”
According to a 2016 report by the United Health Foundation, Texas has the highest percentage of people without access to health care, with just over 18 percent of the state lacking coverage. Thomas says artists and musicians are more susceptible to find themselves without adequate health insurance or other mental health resources, despite other local groups like Metrocare Services and LifePath Systems that also offer mental health services.
“A lot of these programs are overrun with people who really need their help and they tend to generally cater to folks who have a little bit more intense pathology, like chronic schizophrenia and homelessness,” Thomas says.
Daniel says it’s important that Dallas support the people who make neighborhoods like Deep Ellum worth visiting and living in. “From the owner, to the porter, to the photographer, to the writer, to all the musicians, to the bartenders and bar backs, they’re all part of the infrastructure that allows this place to go,” he says. “You can’t have Deep Ellum without those people, which means there’s no amenity here which means that the funding for the 17-story office tower across from Murray Street Coffee doesn’t get done because then it’s just an empty lot, it’s not an empty lot that’s in the middle of Deep Ellum with all its restaurants and clubs and bars … that doesn’t happen unless there’s a porter sweeping up The Bomb Factory.”
The Foundation’s connection to the local music and art scenes in Dallas puts them in prime position to help fill the gap in Texas’ woefully lacking mental health services. Mental Health America, a nonprofit group dedicated to addressing the needs of those suffering from mental illness, ranks 45th in the nation in access to mental health care, and 41st in the nation in the number of youths in need of these services.
“It’s neat to be able to walk into a group where other musicians are and you can talk about the stressors of that and everyone in the room can kind of nod and identify with that,” Thomas says. “It really gives you this nice sense of universality which is this sense of ‘I am not alone with this,’ and that is a wonderful thing to have when you are struggling.”
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