Today you will be enchanted by the story of Saja Butler - musician, singer, and teacher. Her optimistic outlook on life is an inspiration to all who meet her.
Saja Butler is first and foremost a musician. Music can't help but flow out of her. She owns her own company called Urban Monk Studio where she has taught and continues to teach thousands of music lovers how to sing and play a variety of instruments. She is passionate about the power of music in life. Saja sees music as a bridge that joins people together. It is with that same contagious joy and passion that she welcomes and loves everyone in her life.
I met Saja at her home in Old Town Fort Collins, Colorado. Being that we are in the time of covid, we sat out back on her patio with the appropriate level of social distance between us. But the unintended, beautiful consequence of this time outside was the delightful sounds of nature and the neighborhood that enveloped our conversation. You'll hear birdsong, rustling wind, airplanes, a nail gun, loud mufflers, and the occasional dog bark. And it truly was a conversation. I was lost in her story, magnetic personality, and cadence of her voice. I felt like I was sitting in the backyard of a friend I'd known all my life and we were just passing the heavenly fall afternoon sharing stories.
What I appreciate most is Saja's willingness to be real about all the facets in her life. She is one of the most genuine people I have met. She's honest about her struggles as a small business owner, how she feels blue some days and needs to talk it out with friends, and about the trauma of her parents' divorce but also the healing that came out of it years later. These aren't "black only problems." This is the human condition. We are all more the same than we are different. We can all relate to these struggles. The color of our skin does not change that. Saja is not more or less successful in this life because of her skin color. This just happened to be the beautiful pigment she was born with. True, her struggles can be compounded because others look at the melanin of her skin and attribute false stereotypes to it just as some could look at my skin color and assume generalizations about me that may or may not be true. This is why we need to surround ourselves with people different from us...to learn how they cope, what they struggle with, what their fears are, what brings them deep joy...and then maybe we'll find our commonality. And in that commonality we'll find compassion, relatability, and hopefully, a friend. The beauty of this is that we already know how to do this. We do this with people who share our same religion, or nationality, or favorite football team. We're not all automatically friends because of this commonality, it's a choice we make. All we have to do now is be more intentional about meeting others outside of our bubbles and make an effort to find common ground. Slowly, relationships will build and as Saja points out, it's the intimacy of a relationship that will fight racism.
I had several "aha" moments with Saja when I felt like she was speaking right to my heart. The first was when she said, "Music is literally about the present moment. It is a gift." I have experienced what she was speaking of but was never able to phrase it in the way Saja did. It brought me such joy to hear her express this in the way she did.
I was left speechless when Saja was nonchalantly describing the Saturday klan rallies in the southern town of her youth. I was impressed with the insight she draws about how the south is healing faster because of that overt racism than other places where racism is more covert. It really does go back to what James Baldwin said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
The light bulb went off in my head again when Saja mentioned people reacting instead of responding. How many times have I been guilty of this very thing. Reacting is a knee jerk behavior triggered out of our own pain or fear. But taking time to respond requires fore-thought that eventually influences the conversation in a genuine manner.
I left my time with Saja feeling hope for the future, a light heart, and joy deep inside - all that after an hour long visit talking about racism. Some people are just like that, they leave a trail of joy behind them everywhere they go. May we all give our genuine selves to another, be present with them, and leave them with the knowledge that they are loved, listened to, and accepted, as Saja does.
Saja's Quote: Howard Berger: "Truth is a social construct merely relative to one's nature."
Saja's Website: Urban Monk Studios
What is Gramercy?
Stories from those who live and work on the margins of society.