Ulysses Owens Jr. was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1982. Owens began playing the drums at the age of 2. During his teenage years Owens attended Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and it was during this time that he set his focus on becoming a professional jazz musician. Through hard work and dedication to his craft, Owens received a full scholarship to New York's The Julliard School, where he enrolled in the inaugural jazz program.
Owens career in the music industry has been rewarding. He has performed and recorded with musicians such as Kurt Elling and Christian McBride. His involvement with both musicians has earned Owens two Grammy Awards, the first for drumming on Elling's 2009 live album Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman, and the second for drumming on McBride's 2011 album The Good Feeling.
Owens's time spent in New York resulted in him forming invaluable industry connections and remarkable opportunities to develop his career as an artist. At the age of 34, Owens is recognized in the international jazz scene as a "rising star" (DownBeat's Critics Poll) and a tremendous sideman and band leader. At the heart of Owens's work is a passion for creation and a desire to reach new audiences.
Owens passion spills over into his efforts with Don't Miss a Beat, the non-profit organization that Owens co-founded with his immediate and extended family. Together the group started the organization to combat Jacksonville’s high dropout rate and other youth problems. The organization utilizes the performing arts, academic enrichment, and civic engagement to make positive impacts in neighborhood communities.
10 Questions with Ulysses Owens Jr.
What is the mission of your organization?
The mission of Don’t Miss a Beat is to blend music, art, academic achievement, and civic engagement to inspire and enlighten children and teens in the Riverside and Brooklyn.
When was your organization formed and how has it grown?
The vision for a family business began in 2007. During the first year we invested into the business (and continued to invest to this day), applied for, and received our 501 (c)(3) status. In the summer of 2008 we started our Flagship “Music, Art, and Academic Enrichment Summer Camp”, which was funded by the Jacksonville Children’s Commission.
Our camp was so successful during the first summer that the Jacksonville Children’s Commission wanted us to setup a permanent center within Jacksonville's Brooklyn-Riverside neighborhood to engage the community by creating multiple programs that would benefit the children of the neighborhood. We now have two Community Art Centers running simultaneously in Brooklyn-Riverside and the Beaver Street communities.
We are in the 10th year of our Flagship Music and Art Summer Camp. Our Academy of Arts Program has operated successfully for two years. Our After-School Program, which provides academic assistance, has operated for more than five years. Additionally, our All Stars Performance Group is embarking upon a tour to New York City in April 2017.
What strategies are in place within your organization for you to engage your audiences?
Our Music and Arts Summer Camp Finale was our first first foray into building an audience amongst our parents and supporters. This group is so in love with what we do at DMAB that we have a steady audience of 200+ parents and community members supporting most of our programs and performances.
A second way that we have engaged new audiences within the community is by hosting events with various partners, such as TEDxJacksonville, the Jacksonville Sherriff's Office, and others. Also we host a Christmas toy drive and we provide toys, clothes, and foods to over 100 Families during the holiday season.
We have successfully created a community at DMAB, and our families trust our vision and our agenda. We have been fortunate to have their consistent engagement in anything that is occurring at Don’t Miss a Beat.
Why is art and culture important?
How could it be anything but important? There is no other entity like the arts that engages the entirety of the human experience. The beauty of the performing arts, is that it has an ability to engage a community without dividing them. Culture is literally the displayed expression of a person and their upbringing. Without culture, people merely exist as blank canvases. Culture informs our life experiences. It becomes the “HOW”, as we approach anything in life.
Culture and the arts are integral to our human existence.
What’s your organization’s next major milestone and is this milestone part of a long-term plan?
Our next major milestone is to expand upon the amount of students that we currently reach. During the summer we currently reach about 150 kids, and our Academy of Arts and After-School Programs engage about 30-50 students. We are working to double the attendance of our Summer Camp, DMAB Academy of Arts, and After-School Programs in the next year. We are applying for additional grants that will allow us to have the necessary staff to expand our vision and impact.
Long Term Plan
Regarding the DMAB All Stars, I desire to make this group one that travels the world performing as Ambassadors for the program in highly visible scenarios so it can create additional funding for our other programs. This program also provides children a valuable opportunity to gain exposure to the arts.
I desire to create partnerships with commercial brands that believe in our vision and allow us to further the work that we do for children.
I desire for all of our programs to reach more children that need us. Given the times that we are living in, our vision is very necessary so we can aid in ending the cradle to prison pipeline system which has created the mass incarceration issue that very much affects minority communities at large. We need more funding that can allow us to expand our work and build more infrastructure to support the work.
Lastly, I desire to build additional faculties in other inner-city neighborhoods of Jacksonville because we have many families and students who don’t have the means to travel to our two existing locations. I would love to operate up to five DMAB Community Art Centers simultaneously in the communities that need it most.
I would also love to create a Charter School out of the DMAB Community Arts Center Model that creates an opportunity for our children to be educated in a truly nurturing way. In my opinion, the current educational model only works for upper middle class and wealthy families that can afford to place their kids in schools that embrace all of the needs of the whole child. I want that opportunity to be extended to children who don’t come from wealthy households. I want all children to be given the opportunity to excel in life and have a bright future.
This will be my family's legacy, and my life’s work. We desire for DMAB to grow and remain relevant as an institution of Arts Advocacy for many years to come.
What would you like to see in the arts and cultural community in Jacksonville?
I would love for the arts and cultural community in Jacksonville to become more all-inclusive and less culturally divided. There are surrounding cities that have done a great job with collaborating and very assertively pushing their agenda to position themselves as a renowned city in the arts community at large. Great strides have been made in Jacksonville but their is still opportunity to grow and expand. Jacksonville is such a beautiful city with so much potential.
Does your organization partner with other organization(s)?
YES! Collaboration is a MAJOR part of why we are able to exist and how we make an impact in our community. We are thankful to the University of North Florida (UNF) Music Mentor Program, Jacksonville University, Beaches Fine Arts Series, the Department of Dance at Florida State College, Jacksonville Dance Theatre, Mandarin Museum and Historical Society, and On Ideas Advertising Agency.
What is a program offered by your organization that you’d like to highlight? Additionally, what is an organization that you think more people need to know about?
DMAB All Stars, which is part of the DMAB Academy of Arts, will be touring New York City in April. Once there, they will record their debut album. The trip will culminate with a performance in a collaborative concert at The Juilliard School with the organization Back 2 Bach. This is historic because Juilliard's Music Advancement Program is sponsoring this event, which is not something they typically do. We are thrilled to give our children this honor that they deserve.
The DMAB Academy of Arts program also offers FREE instruction in the area of dance, music and visual arts. I wish more families would support this program. They can do this by simply bringing their children to participate. We have just added “Creatively Young”, which is an arts program targeted to toddlers 2-4 years of age. This program builds their developmental skills in conjunction with learning to sing, dance, and paint.
How do you stay up to date with the art and cultural happenings both nationally and in Jacksonville?
We are fortunate to be funded by the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville and we have wonderful partners that have adopted us as one of theirs because we share the same goals for the arts community within Jacksonville. We remain informed on what's happening artistically in Jacksonville through these relationships.
I am also thankful for social media because many of the wonderful things happening in Jacksonville are promoted on these social platforms.
How can others get involved with your organization?