Dr. Mark Lomax, II: “Don’t be in a rush to grow up”

We were on tour when the pandemic began to shut everything down. In an effort to keep the work and the message out in the world, we launched Drumversations, a weekly YouTube show featuring solo drum set music and a discussion of topics from my forthcoming book, Toward a Politics of Humanity through the lenses […]

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We were on tour when the pandemic began to shut everything down. In an effort to keep the work and the message out in the world, we launched Drumversations, a weekly YouTube show featuring solo drum set music and a discussion of topics from my forthcoming book, Toward a Politics of Humanity through the lenses of personal development, community development, and spiritual development. I’ve heard from people all over the country that this series helped them get through rough patches during the pandemic, others are using several of the episodes to facilitate community conversations, and the episodes on state sanctioned murder, analyzing whiteness, and understanding how to activate trust toward transformation has been used as training videos for nonprofits focused on human services.


As a part of our series about music stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dr. Mark Lomax, II.

Dr. Lomax is a critically acclaimed and award winning composer, recording artist, drummer, activist, and educator. Dr. Lomax specializes in the socio-political and spiritual aspects of Afrikan-American art, music, race, and using the arts to build community. These ideas are documented in his TED Talk, Activating the Transformative Power of Trust, and his magnum opus, 400: An Afrikan Epic, a 12-album cycle expressing a vision of what America will heal toward in the next 400 years.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was born into music and used to tap rhythms on my mother as a baby. I began playing in church at 6, went professional at 12, and began touring with gospel groups at 14. This was the same year I started playing Black improvised music and got inspired to compose. My first commission came when I was 18 and I decided I wanted to record the work. Growing up in the Black church, I knew that music meant something and had a purpose beyond pure entertainment. That first recording experience was difficult, but it was also absolutely fulfilling and I promised myself I would be successful enough to record an album a year to do my part in making the world a better place.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

I’m not always the best judge on what’s “funniest,” but my quartet is more like a family. We’re a group of brothers who make music because we love the music AND we love each other.

Because we are as close as brothers, we often argue about things like where we are in the music before realizing that we were talking about the same thing, but from different perspectives. It’s always frustrating in the moment but hilarious after the fact and has taught me that hearing EVERY perspective is the key to bringing music to life. That’s not just true in art, it’s true in every aspect of life.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

I’d suggest they find a better model to emulate or create their own path to begin with. None of my musical s/heroes have received major awards, and they weren’t very famous. However, they all made music as the most authentic expression of their humanity. They’re all more soulful than 99.9% of the musicians’ people think are great just because they are in the mainstream.

Their music represents every facet of the culture. That’s the key. Never divorce your voice as an artist from the culture that gave birth to you.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

James Baldwin said, “not everything faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.” The only way to grow and become more and better is to face the truth of who we are.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My work comes from study, observation, and lived experience, so everyone I’ve ever come across has helped whether they intended to or not. More specifically, I benefit from the love and support of my wife Ruth (21 years!), and my two daughters Amirah and Lailah. They make it a point to not pay attention to me which definitely keeps me grounded! My brothers, Edwin Bayard, Dean Hulett, and William Menefield have been on this journey with me for 20 years or more. They’ve been a part of EVERYTHING that I’ve accomplished as a musician. Everything.

I’m also fortunate to have some relatively new teammates that are helping us build something great. Chris Herbert at Pendulum Creative Strategies helps keep our work in front of people, Jon Fintel makes sure our studio recordings sound beautiful, Charles Hairston and Jason Wood make sure we are capturing the moments on camera to share a narrative of how Black musicians should function in the world. All of these folks helped produce our latest project, Four Women, which was supported by Jack and Zoe Johnstone via their Johnstone Fund for New Music, and performed by the wonderful musicians of UCelli: The Columbus Cello Quartet.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

As alluded to earlier, my work is focused on uplifting and edutaining listeners by creating an intention that is communicated through the various frequencies that optimize our collective vibrations. Once optimized, we can do and be better. I also create from a Sankofan perspective.

The 400: An Afrikan Epic project is wholly focused on helping us understand the past to bring context into the present that helps us shape a more just, equitable, and inclusive future. This is why we create and share our work in multiple formats from sound recording to film and educational curricula. We want to ensure equitable access to the work wherever possible and have often given it away.

As part of the mission to create a better world, I work in philanthropy to create sustainable youth development systems in my city with the purpose of ensuring equitable paths to holistic success. I’ve been an advisor to many young people leading social protests, and mentor younger musicians who want to use their artistic voice for social change. I’m excited about the future.

Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?

Growing up in the homes of educators, ministers, and people who are civically engaged while also connected to Afrika (both have traveled to the continent), I was taught that my “gifts” had purpose, that the purpose would be revealed to me within a spiritual context (dreams in my case), and that pursuing my divine purpose was the goal of life. I had a series of dreams in my teens and early 20s that began to shape my perspective and perception of art. By my mid-20s I came to see the purpose of my work as a means of uplifting and edutaining audiences through telling the stories of my people. Music is the healing force of the Universe. It is a proven way to bring people together, and has the power to create instant community. As such, it is my weapon of choice in the fight for a humanity that is healthy, happy and whole.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

Growing up, my friends and I were often told what we couldn’t do. Very low expectations for kids in the hood only benefit the prison industrial complex. Because I was able to play my instrument at a certain level, I had opportunities outside of my schools and neighborhoods that opened my eyes to possibilities that every fiber of my being set an intention to manifest. My successes may not have manifested in the run of the mill material successes America has been socialized to expect, but I’m able to record, release, and engage audiences with my work on my own terms. That is freedom. When so many asked “why” I did something, my answer was always, “why not”?

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

We were on tour when the pandemic began to shut everything down. In an effort to keep the work and the message out in the world, we launched Drumversations, a weekly YouTube show featuring solo drum set music and a discussion of topics from my forthcoming book, Toward a Politics of Humanity through the lenses of personal development, community development, and spiritual development. I’ve heard from people all over the country that this series helped them get through rough patches during the pandemic, others are using several of the episodes to facilitate community conversations, and the episodes on state sanctioned murder, analyzing whiteness, and understanding how to activate trust toward transformation has been used as training videos for nonprofits focused on human services.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Individuals can support our work by purchasing the music from the website, www.marklomaxii.com, rather than streaming! Society can help by being intentional about coming to grips with the country’s past in order to create a better future. Government can help by prosecuting state sanctioned murder to the fullest extent of the law, reallocating funding for law enforcement to initiatives that actually help people (what the nonprofit world calls wraparound services), and calling together a new constitutional convention to rewrite all of the founding documents in ways that are more equitable, just, and inclusive. We have to rebuild America from the ground up in order to ensure this is a great place for everyone who lives here.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. “Don’t be in a rush to grow up.” I started playing so early with adults that I had to “grow up” pretty quickly to prove that I could “hang.” At 15, my ideal age was 40 and my “best friend” was a 50 year old percussionist. Sometimes I wish I had been more present with my contemporaries for my teen and college years.
  2. “Finish school.” I dropped out of college twice and racked up a ton of student loan debt by the end of my doctorate.
  3. “Don’t compare yourself to anyone else.” I spent a lot of my early career comparing myself to other musicians and not acknowledging my own artistic voice because it didn’t match a fictitious template in my head. Be you.
  4. “Don’t waste your time worrying about what others think!” I grew up connected to my Dad, but not living with him and I really craved positive reinforcement from men as if they were the only ones who could affirm my manhood. Life got much better when I saw myself for who I was.
  5. “Trust yourself.” I couldn’t unlock my full potential and true power until I came to trust myself.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My big idea is cultivating the practice of a politic of humanity. When our politics, the negotiation of power, is human centered, then it is not unfathomable to think that we could create a society where no one is living in and with poverty, where everyone has equitable access to good healthcare, where all of our basic needs are met, and where our value is not measured by the material goods we accrue, but by the value of our actions in service to the world.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

The Four Women, educational performance video project highlights four women in Afrikan and Afrikan-American “our-story” that are archetypes for the strength, brilliance, and resilience of the Black women I grew up around and have met in my travels. Two of those women are Dr. Angela Davis and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’d love to have an opportunity to meet them! Also, Rev. Dr. William Barber, who I came close to meeting back in 2019 when he appeared in the audience at a concert we did with the Cincinnati Symphony at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. These individuals are doing exciting and transformative work!

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!


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