Season 2 Episode 11
Jabee Williams, musician, entrepreneur, community activistHow to preserve history and creative positive change through community and collaboration

Jabee Williams is a musician, entrepreneur and community activist. His creativity, passion for new experiences and love for his hometown of Eastside, Oklahoma City, has led him to wear many hats, introducing one surprise collaboration after another. However, his dedication to preserving the history of Oklahoma’s largest African-American community while inspiring future generations is his greatest contribution yet.

Tune in to learn how he strengthens his community while partnering with other entrepreneurs, real estate developers and local government organizations.

Jabee Williams, a musician, community activist and entrepreneur, is a lifelong resident of Eastside, Oklahoma City, the home of the largest population of African-Americans in the state of Oklahoma. With a passion for preserving history and honoring the community, Jabee finds creative solutions to improve Eastside for all of its citizens and for future generations to come.

He puts his platform to work and engages in a series of savvy collaborations to create positive change and bridge the past and future of Eastside.

In this episode, you’ll hear Jabee Williams discuss:

  1. Being intentional about business moves and projects
  2. Identifying ways to add value
  3. Preserving history and honoring your community
  4. Finding creative solutions
  5. Giving your community a say
  6. Creating excitement with the right collaborations
  7. Using your platform to make an impact
  8. Inspiring future generations
  9. Rapid-fire questions

Being intentional about business moves and projects

Chris Allen: Well, hey, Jabee, welcome to The Entrepreneur’s Studio.

Jabee Williams: Thank you.

Chris: Good to have you here, man.

Jabee: Thank you for having me.

Chris: We’ve heard a lot of really good things about you. I had that conversation with Jonathan Dodson and he mentioned you. And the team was like, “We’ve got to talk to this guy.” So glad to have you here.

We were just sitting down getting to know each other a little bit. And one of the things I think is really interesting is that you’ve led a successful music career and you’re a successful business owner, and now they intersect. Talk to me about how those things came together to form what you’re doing today. How did those intersections happen?

Jabee: It’s hard because a lot of times I don’t even see it like that. You know what I mean? But I’ve always been into music. I started rapping at seven probably, but like you were saying earlier, music kind of gave me the platform. And I guess it helped people know who I am somewhat.

But just with business and everything I do, it’s just been kind of a natural progression, just as I grow, as I get older, and I have interest in different things. And then I also see the need and see where I can be of help in certain ways. So I try not to just do things, just to do it — even with music, everything I do is intentional. Every song, every theme, it’s intentional.

I don’t write a song or record a song that I don’t intend to use for something. You know what I’m saying? Before I did, I just always had raps and that. But now everything’s intentional.

So the same is true with business. Everything is intentional and everything needs to have a purpose and a place. And so how it all came together and how it all happened, I think the best way I can explain it is that as I grow, I just either see the need somewhere or recognize something I really want to do and grow a passion for it over time.

Identifying ways to add value

Chris: So recognizing a need and doing something about it, those are things that happen often for people. They don’t often happen at the same time. And that spirit of action seems to be so clear with you. Where did this come from?

Because you’ve got to be paying attention to people, to situations, to communities. You’ve got to be able to see the need, so something was a spark for you there. Then there’s the sort of spirit of action to do something about it. Where did those kinds of initial sparks come from for you?

Jabee: I think just from coming where I come from, from not having anything growing up. And being one of those people who, even with music, wants to tell my story. And wanting to tell the story of people whose voices don’t get heard oftentimes, and wanting to connect with people in that way.

It’s the same with business, or things I see where I can jump in and help. Oftentimes, I’ve been on the other side, and so I know what it’s like. So that’s where it comes from. I come from a place where we never have had anything. I come from a place where anything we did have, we had to scratch and scrape and struggle to get it.

So I know what it’s like to need those resources or need these things because I’ve been on the other side. Then if I can be someone to help or provide a resource or whatever in some way, I feel like that’s part of my responsibility. You know what I’m saying?

I remember when I first started this thing I do called gift wraps, it’s a Christmas giveback event, a charity event. We partner with a local nonprofit to raise money to get food, get clothes, turkeys and things like that during Christmastime.

Me doing that came from being a kid where oftentimes, most times, Christmastime is a happy time for most people — but I come from a place where Christmas was a stressful time. You know what I’m saying? And that was the hardest time for not just our family, but just to be living in the neighborhood we live in. Because that’s when people start breaking into your house. That’s when people start breaking in your cars and kicking your doors in and stuff like that. Because everybody is going through the same thing and needing and wanting things and not having nothing. You know what I’m saying?

And we’ve been that family before, where we stand in line for the turkey baskets and stuff like that. You know what I mean? So what I’m trying to say is that my experiences in life and the things I’ve dealt with in life, often help me pay attention and see those things. Whatever small role I play, or whatever small position I have, I can do something to help and be there for people who I know need those things. And it just comes from going through it myself most times.

Chris: Yeah. So your personal experience is what created that sense of empathy. There’s a lot of people that don’t end up there. That personal experience ends up being vendettas, revenge, “I’m going to take what’s mine.” But you turned it into, “How do I give back? How do I help?” That means something. That doesn’t just happen naturally, you know what I mean? That’s not something that happens naturally.

I wonder, just connecting back to you being an artist, and then not only just being an artist for the expression of it but to becoming an award winner. What did that feel like for you to go from, “I’m doing this, now I’m being recognized for doing this work.”

Jabee: It is a really good feeling. It’s a really good feeling to get recognized. And you’ve got to understand that for me, growing up, I was never the kid who got awards. I was never the kid who stood out. You know what I’m saying? I was never that kid.

So to have that, it definitely feels good. It feels good in your spirit and it’s a different feeling. But at the same time, you feel blessed because it’s something nobody can take from you. And people can hate and talk and say whatever, but still, no matter what they say, you still have done something that is profound in whatever way it is.

So there’s a responsibility in that too, I guess. But yeah, it feels good. And I think I always think of things like, “What will it mean when I’m not here?” So I think that’s something they can put in my obituary. That’s an accomplishment that not everybody receives. It’s a blessing and I appreciate it. But now there’s also some responsibility that comes with that.

Chris: It’s true. And there’s something you can do with that platform. Right?

Jabee: Yeah, no doubt.

Preserving history and honoring your community

Chris: So talk to us a little bit about the Eastside of Oklahoma City, where you grew up and where you still live today. And talk to us a little bit about how you’re doing everything with intention today.

You’ve been a musician, artist, and I’d say a community activist. You’re doing something specifically in the community right now that is like, “I’m making an anchor point as a business owner, not just a name or someone people know who happens to be famous.”

Jabee: OK. So the Eastside has the largest population of Black people in Oklahoma City (OKC). In the past, you know how Greenwood has had Black Wall Street, well, we also had thriving districts and businesses. And one of the cool things about ours is a big part of our foundation on the Eastside was the music. Charlie Christian, Jimmy Rushing, Deep Deuce, was known for its jazz and its blues.

People came from all over the country to play there to see shows there. Dr. Slaughter had a business in Deep Deuce. He was the first Black doctor in Oklahoma, and he was on the Eastside. He delivered Ralph Ellison. And he used the building that his business was in, the rooftop, for proms and stuff like that because those Black kids at Douglas weren’t allowed to rent out spaces for prom.

Chris: Oh wow.

Jabee: Which, it was probably way better to have your prom on the rooftop.

Chris: On the rooftop.

Jabee: You know what I’m saying? And things like that. So you have Charlie Christian, Jimmy Rushing. You have Ralph Ellison, you have, of course Clara Luper. You have Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher. You have Roscoe Dunjee… all these people who are really thriving and doing big things in the community throughout history.

So you have Deep Deuce, which was just a booming district for Black people. There was a theater there called the Aldridge Theater. It was not just a staple in Oklahoma City, but a staple in this region for shows.

Then you had Fourth Street which had its own thriving businesses over there. People go to Florence’s Restaurant, right on 23rd Street, but the original Florence’s was on Fourth Street. Moving into the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 23rd Street was a hub for up-and-coming businesses, salons and all these barbershops.

Then you have Roscoe Dunjee, who started the first Black newspaper in Oklahoma City called The Black Dispatch. And part of the reason he started the newspaper was to help the community whenever they went to jail for being out past a certain time, or—

Chris: Oh wow.

Jabee: It was illegal for Black people to cross a certain street. I believe it was Seventh Street. So if somebody went to jail for being out late or crossing a certain street, then Roscoe Dunjee was using money he made from his newspaper to go and get those people out of jail. So the history of the Eastside and just Black people in Oklahoma City is very, very deep.

There was Calvary Baptist Church and Miss Clara Luper and the NAACP Youth Council. And walking from Calvary and Deep Deuce on the Eastside, walking from there to Katz Drug Store downtown, marching from there. And then you have the sanitation strikes and all of that.

There’s so much history and so much that was put into it. The footprint of Black people is so big in this city. It’s a responsibility I have as well. It’s not to squander all of the work people put in, so that I can own the business one day. I can do all these things, and part of that is making sure I look out for other people as well and making sure that I jump. I’m not just out here trying to be the best rapper and look the coolest or make the most money, but really to be intentional with people and help change people’s lives in a way.

Chris: Well, what made you pick business? What made you pick pizza?

Jabee: A couple things. So whenever I first wanted to do a business, because like I said before, everything started with music — I was thinking I could do a dope hip-hop shop and have a space where all these young rappers could come in and perform, sell their music, have a studio, record, all these things.

I remember when I was graduating high school, someone told me, “If you want to do something good, get around people who already do it and who can do it great.” You know what I’m saying? So whenever I’m thinking about this hip-hop shop and being just this dope, hip-hop mecca in the middle of OKC on the Eastside. I was like, “Now I’ve got to go. I’ve got to get with somebody who’s already doing it.”

So Dodson and I flew to Minneapolis. There’s a hip-hop shop out there called Fifth Element, and it’s run by the record label Rhymesayers. I’m friends with one of the guys on the label, so he set it up so we can sit down and meet with them. I’m like, “You’re doing this the best. You’re my favorite record store, hip-hop shop in the country. I want to do what you do in Oklahoma City.”

And he was like, “Well shoot, man, to be honest, we’re probably going to be going strictly online. The music is different now than it used to be, and you’re in Oklahoma. That’s not the mecca of hip-hop at all.” So I was like, “Dang.” But he was like, “If you do something, I’ll be glad to help. I’ll be glad to, if my artists are on tour, I’ll be glad to try to get him to come through.” This and that.

So I came back still thinking I was going to do it, but kind of understanding this is going to be a bigger challenge than I thought. So I’m just trying to figure that out, and in the meantime, the grocery store on Martin Luther King Avenue closes down. I’m in the community and I’m hearing and seeing all these things. Pastors and different churches are arranging buses to take people to the grocery store. We’re giving rides to people to get food.

We’re trying to figure out bus routes for people to get food and all this wild stuff. Everybody’s saying, “They took our store and they closed the store.” I just kept hearing, “They and them and they and them.” And I’m just like, “Man, who is ‘they’?” You know what I’m saying? I’m like, “Nah. Us, it needs to be us.”

So right then is when I decided I wanted to do food. I didn’t like the stories and what was being said, “The Eastside is a food desert, and stuff like that. I’m just like, “That’s wrong.” Because if we think about what a desert really is, a real desert is made by God. It’s natural. You know what I’m saying? It is a creation of God. You know what I mean?

What we are dealing with was created by man — the resources on the Eastside, not having food, not having what we need. The conditions of the Eastside weren’t created by God. They were created intentionally by men. That’s not a food desert, that’s a food apartheid.

Part of me understood it was like OK, I have to be part of reversing this narrative and reversing this train of thought where, especially those of us who live on the Eastside, feel like we have to depend on other people who don’t come to the Eastside, people who don’t know anybody and who have never been a part of our community to make decisions for us.

Then that specifically came from being in a city council meeting, a small, closed meeting. Dodson was there. This is back whenever Councilman Pettis was on the city council. We were talking to the city council about getting the city’s help with EastPoint and making sure this was something the Eastside could really benefit from and really getting the city to buy into it.

So I’m sitting there and it’s me, Pettis, I think Sandino and maybe Q, and everybody else in the room is white. These people are sitting there in front of us having a conversation about whether or not the Eastside should have help or whether or not this is a good idea. And it messed me up.

Chris: Man.

Jabee: I was just like—

Chris: What is happening?

Jabee: Yeah, because they can’t tell you anything about it. They never go over there. They don’t know anybody over there. Imagine me coming to your house and telling you how to raise your kids. You know what I’m saying?

Finding creative solutions

Chris: Yeah. See that? Just pause real quick. To me, that is the value system that you just talked about, where everything came from, which was personal experience creating empathy, and you’re watching people doing the exact opposite.

Jabee: Yeah, no doubt.

Chris: So I can see how that would bother you.

Jabee: So that’s when I was like, “OK, well, never again.” I don’t want to feel like that ever again. So I want to make sure I’m at every table. I want to make sure voices of people who often don’t get heard are being heard. Because for them to have a conversation about that is wild because to me it just makes sense.

That point was when I was like, “OK, I’ve got to do some type of food.” Again, I went back to what I was told in high school about getting with somebody who does it well. So I had a friend in LA, his name is Andy Wynn, and he used to own a clothing label. That’s how I met him back in 2008. His clothing label was big. He was the first person to put clothes on Kendrick Lamar and stuff. It was huge.

He would always send me gear and stuff. Then he started doing restaurants and food and he had a couple different concepts. So Dodson and I flew out there, met with him, and he was really down to do something with us. We were talking about bringing his concepts to OKC and kind of flipping them for something dope for the Eastside. But not really changing the menu because that’s what he did well, but changing maybe the feel, so it felt more like Oklahoma City.

First we were going to do a poké concept, which I think was a bad idea. One, because poké kind of became something like a novelty. It was here and it was gone. Then we were going to do burgers, which would’ve been a great idea. But when COVID hit, we got hit here, of course. Then he got hit with it in California with a lot of his concepts and had to pull back.

But I couldn’t pull out of the lease so we had to do it. And my only experience in food ever was when I was in high school working at Pizza Hut. I worked at Pizza Hut from the day I turned 16, my first day at work, until I was like 22. That was the only food experience I had. So I was like, “Man, I’ve got to—”

Chris: Which is a lot. That’s a lot of food experience from 16 to 22.

Jabee: I thought I’ve got to do pizza because that’s the only thing I know how to do. So Dodson linked me with some guys who were doing another pizza concept, and that’s how it happened.

Giving your community a say

Chris: Well, that’s something I thought was really interesting. You’re talking about the lease, you’re talking about the need for food and this physical location, how much this grocery store and this physical location was disruptive when it closed, right?

Jabee: Yeah.

Chris: So you decided, “Hey, I’m going to do food and I’m going to be an anchor in the community.” But the thing I thought was really interesting, something I read you had said was how similar the music industry was to real estate development and real estate developers.

What are the correlations there that make you think here’s how the music industry runs and here’s how real estate development runs?

Jabee: Yeah. I was thinking in terms of when, especially with hip-hop music, the people who make decisions don’t come from the culture of hip hop. The person who’s telling a rapper, whether he’s good or not, isn’t a rapper. The person who’s deciding what songs should be the first single doesn’t make hip-hop songs.

Chris: Yeah.

Jabee: So that’s what I meant. When it comes to real estate and development, it’s often not somebody who’s embedded in that community, it’s an opportunity. Not that that’s a bad thing, but I think it’s important if it was rap, it’s important. Or the music industry, it’s important.

If you’re the person who has the money or the resources or the record label, and you have to make a decision on what’s released or what sounds good, it’s important to involve people who live and participate in that culture every single day.

Chris: And would likely consume the music.

Jabee: And who will likely consume the music. So the same thing is true with real estate and development. If you’re the person who has the resources or the money, or you bought the house, or you own the building or the property, and it’s in a community, it’s important that you involve the people. Or that you do things with the community in mind.

Somebody told me one time, “What you do for us without us, you do to us.” When I think about real estate and development, a lot of times, because people have done it before and they’re good at it over here in this area or they’re good at it in whatever other place, then the idea is that it’ll be good here too. Because it worked over here, this is what y’all need, you know what I’m saying?

All you need is a brewery or whatever. But what people fail to realize is if you’re deciding for me what’s best for me, then you aren’t doing something for me, you’re doing something to me.

And what I try to explain, this is what I told Dodson, is that whenever you go into those situations and you’re dealing with Black people, especially, you’re dealing with Black people who come from the type of situations and trauma that the Eastside community has experienced. Whether it was segregation, lack of resources, over-policing, building a highway through Deep Deuce or gentrification, there are all these things we can name over the years. You have to understand that those are things that will impact people’s response to whatever you’re doing. And for Black people, I always say this because I feel it’s true, but I have to be careful who I say it to because it’s like, “Ah, here you go.” But I feel it’s true, so I’m going to say it.

Chris: Yeah, go for it.

Jabee: For Black people in America, since we were brought to this country, we have been told where to go to school, where to worship, how to raise our kids, where to eat, where we could live. Everything — you know what I’m saying?

You have to understand that’s the type of generational trauma you’re dealing with whenever you’re just going, “Oh man, put a brewery here and all we’ve got to do is knock down this house and put it here.” Those are the things. People are dealing with displacement and all these things. It might just seem like the progression of a city to somebody, or development to somebody, but for other people, it’s trauma.

I think about that whenever I think about the parallels of music. I was probably talking more so about rap music, but all music. I could tell you what country songs I like, which ones I like and why I like them. But I’m not an expert on country music. I can’t tell you. You know what I’m saying? I would be ignorant to tell you to say, “This is a good country song. This is a bad one.” I don’t have enough knowledge in country music to have an opinion like that.

But I know what I like, and I could say, “Man, I like this song because of the way it’s written. I like this song.” And you might be like, “Bro, that’s the worst country song in the world. Nobody likes that song.” Just like I was having a conversation with the homie and I’m telling him what music I don’t like. He says how much he likes Linkin Park. And I’m just like, “Bro, that’s the worst band in the world, fam. Who doesn’t think that?” You know what I mean?

But he likes that genre. He could tell you all the other bands that line up to that style and that genre and tell you what inspired Linkin Park and all this wild stuff. So because he’s sort of an expert in that style of music, who am I to tell him just because I don’t like it?

Chris: Yeah, there you go.

Jabee: So I think oftentimes I’m going back to developers in real estate because we feel like, “Well, on this side of town, this is what helped, and this is what made this town pop.” And what I would say is, “Yeah, but over here, this community doesn’t need that.”

And the only way to know is to involve that community. If they say, “Yeah, that’s what we’ve been wanting. That was great. We’ve been wanting a Starbucks. Or we’ve been wanting a brewery over here, or whatever.” You know what I’m saying, I’m being stereotypical about gentrification but at the same time, if they don’t want it, you’ve got to listen and be like, “OK, how can we compromise? Or what is it that you do want?” Because if I’m truly not, and this is what people on the Eastside are really concerned about the most, if I’m truly not building this for you, then I’m building it for somebody else.

That’s what people on the Eastside are really concerned about the most because we’re like, “Well—”

Chris: This is our home. This is where we live.

Jabee: Yeah. And we asked for sidewalks and street lights 15 years ago. We asked for restaurants, we asked for all these things 15 years ago. Now that there’s white families coming over here, now we’ve got sidewalks, now there’s more street lights. It’s like, "Well, who are you building it for? Is it for us or is it for the family moving from, I don’t know where?”

Chris: The suburbs?

Jabee: Yeah, the suburbs. You see it and you hear it. Just like now, people don’t even refer to the Eastside as the Eastside. Growing up, I’ve always said the Eastside, but now people who just moved to the Eastside say, “Oh, east of downtown, I live east of downtown too.”

It’s like, it’s not even the Eastside, it’s east of downtown. It’s how you get to move there so you can get to Thunder games quicker and all those things. I think there’s a balance for all of it, but I think there should be conversations within that balance. There should be ways to preserve the integrity and heritage of what was there. Because if you go to Deep Deuce now or you go to the Innovation District, there’s no way to even tell we were there. There’s no way to know we were ever even there. And that was all Black. There isn’t one Black business down there now. There’s no way to tell that we ever even built it or that it looks the way it does because of us.

But part of that is the reason why I built out Eastside Pizza House on the inside the way I did. It was because I don’t know what that street’s going to look like in five or 10 years. But I do know when you come inside Eastside Pizza House, you’re going to see the history and the heritage of Eastside, Oklahoma City.

Creating excitement with the right collaborations

Chris: Yeah. Which, I’d say a theme for you is preservation, right? The legacy, the preservation of key stories, inclusion and making sure the community has a voice. And that’s showing up in your business.

At the same time, I think you’ve personified or embodied that theme for sure through collaborations. Talk to us about some of the collaborations and why you don’t sell alcohol at your pizza shop.

Jabee: Because there are other businesses around us that do. I just want to make sure there is room and space for everybody, and their business is alcohol. I would rather people get our pizza and then go chill over there at the bar and have a drink. You know what I’m saying? That’s important.

One of my recent collaborations was with Boom Town Creamery, and we did an ice cream collaboration. Even with that, it was like, “How can I help another local business?” We’re both on 23rd Street and she recognized it too. She does all these different flavors and she wanted to make a black ice cream.

But she was like, “Well, it’s the same ingredient for the black ice cream as for the black pizza.” So she was like, “Why don’t I just collaborate with Jabee?” So she hit me up and we collaborated together for the black ice cream. So instead of just doing it, she has this one cool thing that’s black, and she connected on purpose.

So that’s part of it, seeing ways we can add on to what the next person is doing and not feel like I’ve got to be the only one or not feel like if I do this, then it might make what I’m doing look small.

Chris: The collaboration piece is really huge. She chased you down for that one. She saw that it connected that dot at Boom Town and came to you. What’s one collaboration that you pursued? And how did you do it? How did you get a meeting?

The reason I’m asking this question is there’s something I picked up on about some of the ways you happen to be involved in some of these conversations. For instance, you were talking earlier about the “they” You’re like, “Who is ‘they’ with the grocery store closing down?” I’m trying to figure out if these are personal conversations with influential people you just hang out with or if you set up these conversations. Do you invite other people? What’s sort of the secret sauce to get into conversations or collaborations?

Jabee: Yeah. I think each collaboration is different. Sometimes it’s me saying something wild online or in the paper, and then somebody says, “You need to meet. I saw what you said. I think you should meet this person.”

Chris: OK. Yeah.

Jabee: Or it’s me seeing something, kind of how Angela Muir had the idea for the black ice cream but then was like, “Man, if I do it like this, it could be even better.” You know what I’m saying? Some of it is that.

Then some of it is just walking into a place and having an idea and presenting it to someone. I’m not ignorant, so I don’t think my walking into a business in Oklahoma City is the same as somebody who nobody knows, so I understand that is part of it.

But sometimes it is just that. Me walking in and going, “Listen, I’ve got this idea. Let me know if you think you want to try it.” But I also know that me being who I am, I do have something to offer and I can reciprocate. So that’s something that I’ve worked for.

Chris: It’s not just an ask.

Jabee: Yeah. I’ve worked for that my entire life. But it’s different. I think one of my favorites is from my album in 2020 when I did a collaboration beer with Stonecloud Brewing Company. That was probably one of my favorites just because it was something different. Not different for me, but different for rap like that. As a rapper, especially here, it’s like, “Oh dang, he did a beer.” So that was cool. I’m doing a collaboration right now with Lauren Warkentine of William & Lauren. Do you know who she is? You should have her on too. She’s dope.

Chris: Are you talking about the boutique?

Jabee: The suits? Yeah.

Chris: I have one of those blazers.

Jabee: Yeah, you should.

Chris: OK. Yeah.

Jabee: So we’re doing a collaboration suit and it’s like—

Chris: Oh, no way.

Jabee: Yeah, the Eastside With Love suit. And so you open up the suit and the liner is an Eastside map.

Chris: Oh, that’s awesome.

Jabee: And we have socks and a tie, and that’s me. We did those with Shop Good. So it’s me, William & Lauren, and Shop Good.

Chris: Oh, man.

Jabee: So things like that are cool pluses. It’s really good business and it’s just something cool and unique. It’s a way to expand both of our brands, co-promote, all those things. That’s one of my favorite collaborations.

The collaboration stuff I do with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic is fun. I did the Thunder halftime show with them and we wrote a song for Clara Luper’s 100th birthday. We took that song and toured different churches in the city performing. That was fun.

I think part of it is just trying to be really creative and think out of the box about what’s possible. And understanding that there are always people who you might miss. There are people who don’t even know I rap, they just like me for food. Or they just like me for the collaborations I’ve done with William & Lauren. Or that people don’t even know I do food and they just like me because I rap.

Then realizing that all those things are possible and nothing is really impossible and to just keep trying and keep going. But yeah, I think all of them are fun and they all serve a different purpose. Another collaboration I did was with the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. That started from just a tweet. I tweeted something and Steve Lackmeyer saw it and said, “You need to meet Kari Watkins.” And he hooked us up. Now we collaborate for the Memorial and I run and help to get more Black people running.

Another collaboration is with Red Coyote Running and Fitness. I started running in the Memorial and then they helped sponsor The Walk to McAlester I did for Julius Jones. Now we collaborate for a 5K on the Eastside for Juneteenth. So just like you said, it’s about being willing to collaborate and try new things. And it’s fun.

Chris: Yeah. I mean, it seems like these things have snowballed for you. They’ve really created a space for a lot of the things your value system seeks to promote. Something I’m curious about is, just in business, what has been the thing that surprised you the most? Maybe something you didn’t anticipate or something that was just like, “OK, I didn’t see that coming.”

Jabee: I’ll say just having the restaurant. I’m working on my second one right now. I’m doing a breakfast and brunch concept on the Eastside. But I think it just was really humbling to realize I’ve got to do more than just be cool to get people to come in here. And so there’s a whole lot of work that goes into it.

And I remember just the small amount of acting that I did do or have done, it gave me a lot of respect for the people who do it, because it’s not easy. It’s hard. There are people who just think, “All I’ve got to do is look good, and I’m a great actor.” “Everybody likes me, so I’ll be great at acting.” And I tell them, “Bro, it’s not that easy.”

So I had that same humbling experience with going into the restaurant business. All my friends who have restaurants were saying, “Listen, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” And I realized that yeah, it’s not easy. It was humbling. I couldn’t just walk into it and think, “Man, I’m Jabee, so this is about to be cracking because people like me.” Or to think, “Everybody knows who I am, so they’re going to pull up.” It’s not like that.

Chris: Well, I think you’ve probably met people who thought they’re going to be the best rapper.

Jabee: Yeah, no doubt.

Chris: You don’t even know.

Jabee: Yeah. You don’t even know. Yeah. It is not like that at all.

Using your platform to make an impact

Chris: That’s good. Well, you talked about a couple of the things that are next. What’s maybe something that’s down the road that you’re like, “I really want to do this and here’s why.” What unfinished business do you have for the future that you’re looking to tackle?

Jabee: Man, I don’t know about unfinished business. I know I’m starting another thing. I’m starting a violence interruption program. We’ll probably be launching in July. We’re going to start on the Eastside in Ward 7, but it’s something I’ve always had in the back of my mind.

It’s also something I’ve kind of already been doing in some ways, and something a lot of people do, though it isn’t their job. They don’t get paid to do it, it’s just who they are. So we’ll be providing services for people. We will be partnering with other programs around the city. But violence interruption is, whenever you say it, people always think you’re about to go and jump in front of people with guns and be like, “Don’t shoot each other, y’all. Let’s make peace.” That’s not what it is.

You have to have a certain role in the community to even do this. But say there’s a shooting, or I could just tell you a personal experience, I guess. Say when my brother got shot, and if all my family knows who did it and then we want to retaliate, then as a violence interrupter, I will meet the family at the hospital and figure out ways I can be of service to them so that they don’t want to go out and retaliate.

Chris: So it doesn’t perpetuate the cycle.

Jabee: Yeah.

Chris: That’s really good.

Jabee: And so—

Chris: In the moment of violence, you’re trying to break the cycle of violence to interrupt that cycle.

Jabee: Right. Yeah.

Chris: That’s cool.

Jabee: And there are different scenarios, obviously. It’ll look different depending on what the situation is. But part of the goal is to reduce the homicides in Oklahoma City, reduce the gun violence, and help provide resources for those people who are caught up in those situations.

Chris: Are you getting municipal or government support for that? Or is it something you guys are just going to be doing on your own?

Jabee: I mean, we’re definitely, it’s going to start on our own. It’s going to take buy-in from the city to sustain it, but we are already having those conversations right now. Part of the 21CP Solutions city guide has recommendations for a program like the one I’m starting.

And I’ve just started having monthly meetings with our police chief. I’ll be having monthly meetings with our DA. I’ve already met with the city manager and the mayor. Of course, I’m in constant communication with Councilwoman Nice, Councilman Cooper, and Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon. And everybody I just named has expressed support.

I think if you ask anybody in the city who deals with this on any level, they would say, “Yeah, we want to do all we can to reduce violence in Oklahoma City.” So I think for me, moving forward, it’s going to be about taking this pilot program and really creating a great and sustainable network, but also showing that it can be successful. Just having those partnerships that are willing to help, and then getting those key people behind the work as well.

Inspiring future generations

Chris: Yeah. Well, I think it’s a true testament to your care and concern for people to go from entertaining them to helping to provide while having some sort of entrepreneurial impetus behind it.

Jabee: Yeah. Can I say one thing about that too?

Chris: Yeah, go for it.

Jabee: And part of the business ownership and stuff, is it’s just important for kids to see people like them who own stuff.

Chris: Yeah.

Jabee: Because we never even owned our house growing up. So for me to have ownership in something is wild. I know for me to meet somebody who’s young, looks like me, and they say, “Yeah, I own this right here.” I’m like, “Dang, OK. So that means I could own something.”

Chris: I could do that too.

Jabee: So that’s also part of it. I’m sorry to cut you off.

Chris: No, I think it’s powerful to go from entertaining people to being a role model like that in business. Then also designing programs that really help the community and being connected to the community with collaborations. It goes to show that what you started this whole conversation with is being intentional.

And I think it’s really hard to brag about being intentional. You just do it. I think that’s a really powerful sentiment I’ve picked up from your story and why people listen to you. The desire to help is so apparent, and the desire to do something is so apparent.

I think it’s just really meaningful to have people like you on this show for others to see, “I can do something and it matters, not just for a financial outcome. I can do something and it can change the community. I can do something and it will affect people. I can do something that matters to me that bonds with my value system, that can change something about the world. It doesn’t have to change the whole world.”

Jabee: Yeah.

Chris: The thing I love about your story is this idea of, “I care about the Eastside. I care about this community.” Some people just quit if it’s not going to be big enough for them.

I think it’s really powerful, and I love the fact that you said yes to come and have this conversation. I loved sitting here talking with you and hearing about it. I’m inspired. I definitely want to go have some black crust pizza.

Jabee: Yeah.

Chris: Because I haven’t had this before.

Jabee: Yes. I tell everybody at work, “If somebody asks what’s in the crust, just tell them it’s melanin.” But...

Chris: I love that.

Jabee: Yeah, it’s black, but we also have regular crust. But people who used to get the regular crust, they end up trying the black one.

Chris: They give it a shot.

Jabee: And then they end up with the black all the time.

Chris: Man, that’s awesome.

Jabee: And then we also have cauliflower crust too, for people who don’t like the carbs or the gluten.

Rapid-fire questions

Chris: Well, Jabee, I really appreciate you coming. I do have some rapid-fire questions I’d like to ask you.

Jabee: OK.

Chris: What’s the most unrealistic pizza combination you’ve ever made?

Jabee: Unrealistic? Probably pineapple and barbecue sauce.

Chris: OK.

Jabee: Yeah. I don’t, yeah—

Chris: It didn’t fly.

Jabee: Yeah. Well, it wasn’t mine. We did a collaboration with somebody and we let them pick the style, pick the ingredients, and that’s what they picked.

Chris: It was like, it’s a no-go.

Jabee: Yeah. I wasn’t messing with it.

Chris: They probably ate it.

Jabee: Yeah.

Chris: What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?

Jabee: Surprised to learn about me? Dang, I don’t know.

Chris: Because you have a pretty well-documented life.

Jabee: Yeah.

Chris: You know what I mean? What would be a surprise to people?

Jabee: Let me see. Hold on. I can tell you something.

I don’t even know. Can I come back to that one?

Chris: We’ll come back to that.

Jabee: OK. That’s a good rapid-fire question.

Chris: Yeah, there you go. Well, what’s your favorite restaurant besides Eastside Pizza House?

Jabee: In Oklahoma City?

Chris: Anywhere.

Jabee: OK. I’m going to stick with Oklahoma City. Do I have to pick one?

Chris: You can say two.

Jabee: OK. Right now, right now, right now, I really, really have been killing Frida Southwest.

Chris: Ate there last night.

Jabee: Man.

Chris: What do you get?

Jabee: Tuna tartar. I’ll order two tuna tartars and just eat those with a fork. But I like everything on their menu. I’ve tried it all.

Chris: That sea bass though.

Jabee: Sea bass is fire. Yeah. And then probably Black Walnut.

Chris: Yeah. That smoky old fashioned is pretty good.

Jabee: Man, he makes the best old fashioneds, yo.

Chris: Isn’t it?

Jabee: Yeah.

Chris: Yeah. That’s good stuff. All right, well, which historical figure from the Eastside has impacted you the most?

Jabee: Clara Luper.

Chris: Yeah?

Jabee: Yeah. Roscoe Dunjee, he was revolutionary and really has been inspiring me a lot more recently. But Clara Luper, because I actually knew her. A lot of people in my family knew her. She taught my dad, our families are friends. My Aunt Gwen was one of the original sit-inners. So her ways and her philosophies have been passed down to me.

She was a hero to me just as a young kid growing up. So probably her. She is the Eastside, you know what I mean? She is [a source of] education in Oklahoma City. And I think her understanding of having the sit-ins being led by children, I think, was really more genius than people really understand or talk about.

Because what she understood was what it would look like to see adults mistreating kids. It’s different whenever you’ve got adults like two grown people going back and forth, or you’ve got an adult sitting there with somebody being rude to them or spitting on them or something like that. That’s an adult.

When you have a nine-year-old sitting there and a grown person mistreating somebody’s child, it doesn’t matter what color you are. You’re going to feel something when you see that. And so the fact that she understood that, I think, was genius.

Chris: Man, that’s awesome. Well, what’s one lesson every entrepreneur needs to learn?

Jabee: A lesson is I think you’ve got to always be dependable and be prepared.

Chris: OK. Who’d play Jabee in a movie?

Jabee: I don’t know. When we were doing all this Julius Jones work, we did the Walk to McAlester and the day of the execution. And when we got back we were just decompressing over how crazy that day was, we were talking about, “Man, this is going to be a crazy movie.” Because the BBC actually came and did a documentary and followed us around for months, and it’ll be out hopefully one day soon.

But we were like, “Who would play Jabee?” And I was thinking, “Oh, man.” Somebody said, have you seen the NWA movie?

Chris: Oh, yeah.

Jabee: The dude who played Eazy-E.

Chris: Oh.

Jabee: They were like, “He would be—”

Chris: He’d be great.

Jabee: Yeah. So I don’t know.

Chris: That’s funny.

Jabee: I like to think of myself as a Michael B. Jordan, but—

Chris: Yeah, there you go.

Jabee: But I’m cool with him. That dude that played Eazy-E too.

Chris: All right. That’s good. Well, what’s a hobby you enjoy outside of music and business?

Jabee: Outside? I like to chill with my kids, hang out with them. We watch movies, we play games. I have two girls. They paint my nails. We play house, all that.

Chris: I’ve got the opposite. I have four boys.

Jabee: Oh, yeah?

Chris: Yeah. There’s no nail paint. We’re playing football in the yard.

Jabee: And then I like to sit on my porch, have a cigar, an old fashioned, or some Jameson, and just chill, man. That’s good for me.

Chris: I love that you just said your favorite hobby is to chill.

Jabee: Yeah.

Chris: That’s so good.

Jabee: I learned that part of chilling, a part of working hard all the time is so that you can chill. And people are always like, “Why do you do so many things? And how do you have all the time, all this time to be doing so many different things and all this work?” And it’s like, I know there’s going to be a day when I want to just chill, so I’ve got to get all this work done so I can.

Chris: Yeah, there you go. All right. Who is your favorite hip-hop artist to listen to while you cook?

Jabee: Oh, that’s probably anybody from Wu-Tang. Either anybody from Wu-Tang or 2Pac or Nas. But usually I could just put on my Wu-Tang playlist. And because there are nine members, I’ve got nine different artists with all their different albums. Then I’ve got all the Wu-Tang albums, so it’s never repetitive. So usually my Wu-Tang.

Chris: All right. Back to the surprise question. What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?

Jabee: Let me think. Shoot. One thing people… I think it’s something, and I’m like, “I’m not surprised by that.” I can juggle. That might be a surprise to some people.

Chris: There you go.

Jabee: What else?

Chris: What’s something your mom would be surprised to know about you? I’m just kidding.

Jabee: Oh, shoot. She wouldn’t be surprised to know nothing. She knows I’m wild.

Chris: That’s good. Hey, well I just appreciate you coming down and having this conversation with us. It meant a lot to me. It meant a lot to us for you to say yeah. I appreciate you coming on the podcast, I appreciate your story, and we’ll do our best to keep giving you a microphone to tell it.

Jabee: Thank you. I appreciate the time. And I just want to thank you because I get to just be on here and talk and talk about my things and what I do. But you don’t have to care.

Chris: Yeah.

Jabee: You don’t have to care enough to be like, “Man.” You know what I mean? So I really appreciate it because people like y’all in your positions who provide this platform for us to look like somebody and look cool, people think it’s because of them and it’s not because of me.

Chris: Yeah, that’s good.

Jabee: So I just really appreciate the opportunity because you could have anybody on the podcast. Thank you for letting me be on here with y’all.

Chris: Absolutely. Thanks, Jabee. Good to get to know you, man.

Jabee: You too, brother.


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